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(with Kimon Friar) 

Dylan Thomas in America 

vu , 

an reading at the Poeliy Center of the 

in New York City 

Dylan Thomas 
in America 

An Intimate Journal 



An Atlantic Monthly Press Book 
BOSTON Little, Brown and Company TORONTO 






The author wishes to thank the following for permission to print 
material which appears in this volume: PATRICK BOLAND for 
permission to reprint his letters to the author. CAITLIN THOMAS and 
for permission to print the previously unpublished poem which 
appears on pages 227-228, and for permission to reprint letters 
from Dylan Thomas to the author. 

Also: The Atlantic Monthly, Mademoiselle. NEW DIRECTIONS 
for permission to reprint lines from the following poems which 
*953 by Dylan Thomas: "Then was my neophyte," on page 121; 
"Fern Hill," on page 127; "On no work of words," on page 230; 
"Poem in October," on pages 236 and 238. 




Published simultaneously in Canada 
by little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited 


The following statement from Caitlin Thomas appears 
here at her request: 

There is no such thing as the one true Dylan Thomas, nor 
anybody else; but, necessarily, even less so with a kaleidoscopic- 
faced poet. He is conditioned by the rehearsing need to with- 
hold from the light his private performance till it is ready for 
showing. I am not quarrelling with Brinnin's presentation of 
Dylan. It is impossible to hit back at a man who does not know 
that he is hitting you, and who is far too cautious of the laws of 
libel to say plainly what can only be read between the lines. 
I want only to make clear that an intensive handful of months, 
at divided intervals, over a comparatively very short number 
of years, do not, however accurately recorded and with what- 
ever honest intentions, do justice to the circumference of the 
subject. And, though I have tried very hard to keep off this 
painfully tricky, already overwritten subject, I think it is only 
fair, after reading Brinnin's onesided, limited to Dylan's public 
and falsely publicized life version, that I should try to show 
what went before. To give some dawning idea of the long- 
growing years, with none of Brinnin's skill, but with a longer 
and, I hope, deeper understanding of the changing man hidden 
inside the poet. I feel that I should ( that it is an Augean duty, 
pushed on to me against my will ) do my best, with a still hot 
shovel of overloaded feeling and a lot of windily winding 
words, to vindicate first Dylan, then me, then both of us to- 

And hope that the truth that I am trying blindly to say, to 
find out for myself, will come out through all the literary mud- 
dles and faultily not detached attitude. And I hope it is a better 
truth than Brinnin's. 


A cknowledgments 

Readers of this book will understand why my debts of grati- 
tude for many kinds of help are far greater than those most 
authors are moved to acknowledge. To Caitlin Thomas, above 
all, I owe thanks for having allowed me to record, from my 
own point of view, the story of those few years of Dylan 
Thomas's life in which I participated, and to publish personal 
letters without which my account would have little documen- 

No formal acknowledgment could adequately discharge the 
debt, or express the gratitude, I owe to Elizabeth Reitell, How- 
ard Moss, Patrick Boland, Herb Hannum, Rollie McKenna, 
Bill Read, Pearl Kazin, Joseph Everingham, Dame Edith Sit- 
well and Sir Osbert Sitwell, and Seymour Lawrence. Each of 
these friends, of Dylan's as well as of mine, knows his part in 
the often torturous and discouraging progress of this book. 



Statement from Caitlin Thomas vii 

Acknowledgments j x 

Facsimile of Letter from Dylan Thomas x ii 

i 1950: February June o 

11 ^S ' June September 84 

in September, 1950 July, 1951 Q4 

Iv J u ty> 1951 June, 1952 9 8 

v 1952: June September 

vi September, 1952 J un e, 1953 

vn iQSS- June September 223 

VI!I 1 953 : September November 246 


&,r. W* o 


n ^^ fa ft$ g on 

165- Thu reproduction is approximately one half the 
of the original letter. 


Dylan Thomas reading at the Poetry Center of the 

YM-YWHA in New York City Frontispiece 

Dylan 144 

Dylan listens to the first rehearsal of "Under Milk Wood" 145 

Dylan and the author on the terrace at the Boat House 160 

Dylan and Caitlin at St. David's Head 161 

Aeron 161 

Colm 161 

Dylan Thomas in America 

1950: February June 

BUNDLED like an immigrant in a shapeless rough woolen 
parka, his hair as tangled as a nest from which the bird has 
flown, his eyes wide, scared, as if they sought the whole dread- 
ful truth of America at once, he came into the zero cold of a 
frosty bright morning at Idlewild Airport. The date was 
February 21, 1950. Among a dozen other strangers waiting to 
welcome their friends, I stood pressed against a rope barrier 
keeping prominently in sight so that he might identify me. 
As he stood about in a sort of disconsolate huddle of himself 
waiting for his bags to be carted in from the plane to the 
Customs room, suddenly he walked, pigeon-proud, to a point 
where through an open doorway he could study the waiting 
group. When I waved, he lifted a tentative hand and showed 
a quick uncertain smile that seemed at once a greeting and 
an apology. In the ensuing forty minutes or so, we smiled 
often again, a little foolishly now, and shrugged our shoulders 
against the officialdom that was keeping us apart. 

I had never seen him before, yet he had been part of my 
consciousness for sixteen years. When he was twenty and I 
was eighteen, I had read some of the first few poems he had 
published in English magazines, particularly those in New 

[ 3 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Verse. Since then I had watched his career with a concern, 
essentially literary, which nevertheless registered as a per- 
sonal devotion fired by the messianic enthusiasm of which 
perhaps only very young poets are capable, or culpable. I had 
published articles about his work, lectured upon it extensively 
in the colleges and universities where I was employed, and 
generally celebrated it as the most remarkable literary accom- 
plishment to come out of my generation so that when crit- 
ics began to point out telling echoes of Dylan Thomas in my 
own books of poetry, I could only assent to the marks of an 
influence I could in no way have avoided. While we had had 
no personal contact, I had learned, about five years previous 
to this morning's meeting, that he was hopeful of finding 
someone who might sponsor the American visit to which he 
had long looked forward. Without his knowledge I had made a 
number of attempts to have him invited to America by cer- 
tain colleges and universities, and to enlist for him the sup- 
port of wealthy individuals who might be willing to become 
his patrons. But all of these efforts were unsuccessful. When, 
in 1949, I was offered the directorship of The Poetry Center 
of the YM-YWHA in New York, I accepted this position with 
one thought foremost in mind: at last I could myself invite 
Dylan Thomas to come to America. My first act in my new 
position was to write to him. His reply was an immediate 
warm acceptance, not only of my official invitation, but of my 
offer to do whatever I could to make his American visit a 
success. When I had discussed with his American literary 
agents the possibility that they might act also as his lecture 
agents, I found them reluctant to undertake duties beyond 
their ken. With the bravado of complete inexperience, I had 
then suggested that I would be willing to arrange a series of 

[ 4 1 

*95 0: February June 

engagements for him myself. Now, in a moment that was the 
culmination of knowing Dylan Thomas only through his po- 
etry, I was about to meet him as a potential friend and a 
development strange and a little confounding as the person 
to whom, for the duration of his American tour, he had al- 
ready entrusted his physical and financial well-being. 

But all consciousness of this personal history had dissolved 
in a moment of recognition: Dylan Thomas walked on Ameri- 
can soil and by a thousand mysterious little events I had 
somehow become the one to greet him. When finally he was 
processed through Customs, he came jauntily toward me: we 
shook hands gingerly, picked up his string-tied bundles of lug- 
gage, and went straight into the airport bar for a breakfast 
of double Scotch and soda. He had nearly suffocated on the 
flight, he told me, it had been so bloody hot. The passengers 
were a grim and forbidding lot of "gnomes, international spies 
and Presbyterians." Since there was not a soul among them he 
could bring himself to speak to, his only conversation was 
with the stewardess who served him long and well in the 
lounge bar beneath the main cabin. The hermetic bar we 
stood in now was temperature-controlled, according to a gold- 
lettered sign, but even this was too hot. He seemed unable to 
shake off some massive discomfort when, within half an hour, 
we dragged his luggage out into the razor-cold morning and 
crossed a roadway to the parking lot where I had left my 
small black Studebaker. "What posh cars American poets 
have," he said, and within a few minutes we were speeding 
through the wastes of Queens. He stared silently at the end- 
lessly ramshackle streets, the junk yards and the sad cluttered 
fields full of weeds and debris, held this morning in a strict 
pall of frost. "I knew America would be just like this," he said. 

[ 5 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

It was still no later than eight o'clock; the sun was rising in 
a solid ball, putting disks in the windows of geometrical rows 
of semidetached houses, fake Spanish, fake Tudor, fake mod- 
ern; smoke from hundreds of chimneys went straight up in 
thin lines, then drifted out wide in a barely moving veil. 
Glancing about this ashen wilderness with bloodshot eyes, he 
said that it must be obvious from the looks of him that he had 
still not wholly recovered from the rigors of a farewell party 
in London that had gone on for days. Friends more sober 
than he had rushed him to the airport and pushed him aboard 
his plane mere minutes before its departure. He had brought 
a volume of Max Beerbohm's stories to read in flight, but 
found he could not, and so solaced himself in the bar. 

Approaching Manhattan, we shot into a long dimly lighted 
tunnel. "I can never help shuddering a little when 1 have to 
go through one of these passages," I said. "'Do you suppose it 
has something to do with memories of birth trauma?" Dylan 
snorted, and as we came from darkness into icy light made a 
high cooing sound : "Ee-ee-EE it does remind one of 
Mummy," he said. Now we could see Manhattan and the sky- 
scrapers, as formal and white in the sun as an island of the 
dead, and Dylan stared and said nothing. 

We were speeding toward a room I had engaged for him at 
the Beekman Tower Hotel, which overlooks the East River 
and Queens on one side and all of mid-Manhattan on the 
other. We had hardly arrived when I realized I had made a 
vast mistake. His room was a high one, looking out upon the 
whole charged center of the city a powerful but oppressive 
view, certainly not the landscape with which to confront a 
man who saw himself as a mendicant poet come to America 
in a fear that he might lose everything, including his identity. 

[ 6 ] 

*95 0; February June 

As soon as we were ushered into the room, he stood at the 
window, and took in the whole dazzling panorama. But the 
shock of it all made another drink imperative. We had room 
service send us a beer for Dylan and a Scotch for me. He 
shaved, then, making piteous groans and profane little cries 
as he nicked himself a dozen times with a new razor blade. 
When he had changed from his rough tweed suit into a shiny 
blue serge one, we set out on foot along soth Street toward 

Third Avenue would surely appeal to him, I felt. Inside the 
first Irish bar we came to, as he climbed onto a stool and made 
a quick farouche-eyed inventory of his surroundings, I sensed 
his relief. This was a part of America he had not counted on. 
It was as homely and dingy as many a London pub, and per- 
haps just as old. From one darkly mirrored barroom to the 
other we went then, Dylan brightening visibly in the rundown 
familiarity of each new place and in the congenial indiffer- 
ence of the many faces lined up along bars in the middle of 
the morning. 

When finally he seemed comfortable with himself, with 
New York and perhaps with me, he loosened his bulky tent of 
a coat, called to the bartender to replenish his beer and my 
whisky-and-milk, and spread out on the bar a handful of 
American coins which he asked me to identify and evaluate. 
I could not for the life of me explain how a quarter had come 
to be "two bits" and did not do too well in impressing Dylan 
with the worth of other coins either. He had already begun a 
practice he continued for weeks: whenever he wanted to buy 
anything costing less than a dollar, he simply handed over a 
bill and waited to see what his change would look like. His 
pockets were soon bulging like moneybags. He accepted 

[ 7 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

one of my Pall Malls and gave me in exchange the remains of 
a ragged packet of Woodbines. Inconsequential as they were, 
these little gestures showed him newly at ease, I felt, ready to 
test for himself the ways of the world into which he had 
stepped. The first American writer he asked about was Theo- 
dore Roethke, and this was happy chance. Long an admirer 
of Roethke's work, I felt relieved to know that, without hav- 
ing to go exploring for it, Dylan and I had already met upon a 
subject for which we shared enthusiasm. As I talked to him 
about Roethke, an old friend, I found myself moving away 
from the scattered personal reminiscence, with which I began, 
toward analytical assertions far more detailed and vehement 
than the occasion demanded. I wanted to seem knowledge- 
able, I suppose, ready to sweep into discourse and literary 
high-talk at the mention of a name. I had no way of knowing 
that Dylan abhorred such determinedly literary conversation 
as much as I did, and that he would soon be attempting to flee 
its purveyors from one end of the country to the other. But 
since Roethke's recent poetry was still somewhat controver- 
sial, and we had met together upon its virtues so warmly, this 
was a good start, the beginning of a wide and easy mutual 
confidence established within a few hours and, it pleases me 
to think, sustained by affection through the rollicking and 
tragic turmoil of the final four years of his life. 

Deserting Third Avenue for a little while, we walked to 
Radio City and took an elevator to the observation roof of the 
RCA Building. North and south, through the hyaline sunlight, 
Manhattan Island glittered, austere and inhuman, a jewel in 
the hand. Dylan stared into the strangely faraway silence of 
the streets directly below and out into the Bay where through 
shining mist he could see the spiked head and lifted torch of 

[ 8 ] 

2 95 O; February June 

Liberty. To break the spell that all the city's grandeur, point- 
blank, had exerted, I said, "Of course it's all a mistake, but 
you and I are too late to do anything about it." Dylan laughed, 
pulled his head into his coat like a turtle. We hurried back into 
the elevator, dropped sixty-five stories as our stomachs turned 
to vacuums, and fled toward Third Avenue as if to our only 

Several times already that morning he had fitfully broken 
into spells of coughing that racked the whole length of his 
body, brought tears to his eyes, and left him momentarily 
speechless. When, in some alarm, I had asked him what the 
matter was, he said it was a liver condition, adding, as if to 
dismiss it, "I think it's called cirrhosis of the liver." Whether he 
really thought this to be true, whether it had even been sug- 
gested to him, I never knew. But as I later found out, it was 
not true. Yet such shattering fits of coughing, often followed 
by frightful retching and vomiting, went on through all the 
time I was to know him. These attacks were as a rule brief, 
did not seem to alarm him, and he recovered always within a 
few minutes, seemingly undisturbed by a collapse that would 
have sent almost anyone else to bed. 

Early afternoon, after our methodical tour of bars had 
brought us to one in which Dylan felt particularly happy, he 
settled down to easy talk over a succession of beers and had a 
lunch of hot pastrami sandwiches. But I had some business 
matters to attend to now, and told Dylan I would have to 
leave him for a couple of hours. He said he would like to stay 
right where he was until we could meet later. Before I left, I 
learned from a phone call (someone had made a good guess 
as to just which bar we were now visiting) that news of our 
pub-crawl had traveled: Ruthven Todd, an old friend of 

[ 9 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Dylan's from London who lived now in New York, was on his 
way to join us, and other English friends would soon be fol- 
lowing him. After several hurried appointments concerned 
with details incidental to Dylan's first reading for which, I was 
pleased to learn, all tickets had already been sold, I dropped 
by at the apartment of my close friend Howard Moss, a poet 
and an editor of the New Yorker, with whom I was staying. 
There I found a message informing me that Patrick Boland, a 
young poet from Detroit whom I had never met, but whose 
work I found remarkable, would be coming to see me at four 
o'clock. Within a few minutes, I opened the door to the 
palest, most fragile and soft-spoken young man I had ever 
seen. He reminded me of faded photographs of the young 
Gerard Manley Hopkins and, at the moment, seemed just as 
unreal. Still somewhat tensed-up and dizzy after my first 
hours with Dylan, and pretty well worn-out from having tried 
to keep pace with him on our sorties along Third Avenue, I 
could barely manage to keep conversation alive. Since Patrick 
had nothing to say, either, I thought I would conclude our al- 
most speechless interview by taking him back with me to re- 
join Dylan, who would by now have gone to await me in the 
penthouse bar of the Beekman Tower. We found him there 
with Allen Curnow, a New Zealand poet in New York for a 
time, who had visited him in Wales only a month before. 

Here is Patrick's report of this meeting: 

"I had seen a recent photograph of him and so I was not one 
of those who could have been disappointed not to see the 
Augustus John portrait come alive; and actually he looked 
much better than that recent photograph and anyway I could 
not have been disappointed myself if he had looked like 
Danny Thomas. After we had been introduced and he had 

[ 10 ] 

*95 0; February June 

taken (not his curtsy but) his courteous courtly little step 
backwards, we all sat down and wondered momentarily what 
to say and even what to drink. You explained how I hap- 
pened to be there: I had won a big prize and I was going to 
read some of my prize-winning poems a month later "All 
that for poems?" but I had come a month early to hear him 
read "Did you really come all that way to hear me?" This 
latter question he asked me not as if I were a crackpot but as 
if I were the credible proof of a creditable proposition. . . . 
He seemed quite sober just then (though he held his head 
when he mentioned the farewell party he had been given 
just before he left England and said he could not clearly re- 
member having left) and he seemed calm, though alert, and 
occasionally extra pensive. I noticed too that he tried never to 
laugh too heartily: that he would purse his lips and dilate his 
nostrils and snort and snozzle and chuckle and nearly choke 
before he would open his mouth wide. Maybe he wished (but 
vainly) to hide his broken teeth but he was not vain; or 
maybe he wished to protect his stomach; or maybe he only 
wished to attract less attention. ... It was my impres- 
sion that his gaiety was not perfectly spontaneous: that 
there was behind it not force or effort but some premedi- 
tation: that it was first a matter of choice and then of 

Leaving our sky-room, we headed for the Village and 
Julius's, where the decor consists mainly of wisteria-like drap- 
ings of dust and sacred photographs of race horses and pugil- 
ists. Dylan seemed pleased to have come across Curnow, an- 
other stranger in bewildering New York; and in his deference 
to the still impenetrably silent Patrick, I felt he showed an 
instinctive understanding of the boy's pale astonishment at 

Dylan Thomas in America 

being, within twenty-four hours, out of Detroit and into the 
presence of Dylan Thomas. 

We walked across Washington Square to have dinner at a 
popular Italian place, the Grand Ticino, where Patrick, 
prompted into speech by several Martinis, caused us all to 
look at him anew as he spoke long, meticulously accurate 
quotations from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poets al- 
most everyone else had forgotten. Howard Moss had joined us 
by this time and we went on to Bleecker Street and the San 
Remo, which was then the restlessly crowded hangout of the 
intellectual hipster, and catch-all for whatever survived of 
dedicated Bohemianism in Greenwich Village. There Dylan 
was ogled, and intruded upon, and recognized with surliness 
or awe, but the life of his drinks was his strength now and he 
seemed unruffled by the many attentions directed toward him. 
For the most part he talked with the now irrepressible Patrick, 
turning away from him only when some wide- or sheep-eyed 
stranger pushed forward to ask if he was really Dylan 
Thomas. When the late crowd at the San Remo developed 
into such a press that we could no longer keep even re- 
motely together, we stumbled on toward Howard's apartment 
for what, I had reasonably expected, would be a nightcap. 
There I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately; when I 
could not be awakened, Dylan led Patrick and Allen out to 
explore new areas of the Village. 

He was up and out of the Beekman Tower when I called 
there for him the next morning, but had left a note: "Dear 
John, Gone to 3rd Avenue. See you at Costello's. Come at 
once. (I like this peremptory tone) Ever, Dylan." This was 
fine, since we had made an appointment with Harvey Breit of 
the New York Times to meet there for lunch. But he was not 

*95 0; February June 

at Costello's, and I fought the wind and sleet of Third Avenue 
until eventually I found him standing at the bar in Murphy's, 
which he already referred to as "Moiphy's," and guided him 
back. Ruthven Todd and Len Lye, another English friend of 
Dylan's, joined our luncheon party and the smoky air was 
soon loud with Rabelaisian reminiscence of prodigious 
drinking bouts that had laid everyone under the table, of Lit- 
erary parties that had not so much ended as disintegrated, of 
pubroom ribaldries that had shocked the fatuous and famous, 
of escapades that had brought wives, mothers and the London 
police running. 

Harvey Breit had taken on the assignment of interviewing 
Dylan for the Sunday book section of his paper. While not, 
outwardly, the least bit unco-operative, Dylan made playful 
evasions of Breit's questions and the result was very little that 
could be shaped for the public print without extensive cen- 
soring. Nevertheless, he did quotably commit himself on two 
subjects: New York and American poetry. "I love Third Ave- 
nue. I don't believe New York. It's obvious to anyone why. 
All the same, I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they've ever 
questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn't know, 
because I won't ever dare ask that question." Asked if he ever 
read American poetry, Dylan replied: "Whenever the day is 
dull and the rain is falling and the feet of the heron are bat- 
tering against my window, and whenever the Garnetts (who 
are a literary family) or the gannets (who I believe are a 
bird) are gossiping in the bay, then what do I do but count 
my beads and then: a volume of American verse edited by 
Oscar Williams! I suddenly have the death wish, which is 
what I started with. And then I have to read the poetry again 
and then I like it. And then it all begins again: the melan- 

[ 13 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

choly, gay, euphoric roundabout." But these were but acci- 
dental moments of sense in a monologue that wonderfully 
made no sense; Harvey Breit had finally to resort to telling 
Dylan more or less what he was going to say, and to ask for 
his blanket approval. When the interview appeared in the 
Sunday Times Book Review some months later, the scandal- 
ously gnomic material of which it was made had been dry- 
cleaned and tailored to a fine-fitting blandness. Yet it was a 
technical triumph on Harvey's part to have been able to 
make any sort of feature of the chimerical interview at all. 
When Len Lye's wife, Jane, came to join us, she took one 
dismayed look at Dylan, whom she had not seen in ten years, 
and said in a sinking voice, "O Dylan the last time I saw 
you you were an angel." As Dylan winced, his face darkening 
in a way that put all of his expression into his big rueful eyes, 
I knew that I had seen the first real evidence that the deroga- 
tory remarks he continually made about his appearance 
were based on his own painful recognition of how profoundly 
he had changed. Crowded into a booth, his hair a matted 
aureole, his crooked teeth brown with tobacco stains, his 
paunchy flesh bunched into fuzzy tweeds, he was not even a 
memory of the seraphic young artist Augustus John had 
painted some fifteen years before. As, one by one, our com- 
panions left to go back to their advertising offices and news- 
paper desks, Dylan, undaunted by the dwindling company, 
continued to elaborate fanciful statements and whimsical 
opinions for an imaginery interview with the press: "a de- 
scription of a typical day in my Welsh bog": the report of a 
poetry reading "by Dylan Thomas the poor man's Charles 
Laughton"; "a bard's-eye view of New York by a dollar-mad 
nightingale"; and, supposing someone would ask him why he 

[ 14 ] 

1950 : February June 

had come to America, he would reply, "to continue my lifelong 
search for naked women in wet mackintoshes." But Harvey 
Breit was gone now, and no one else was interested in making 
copy of what he said. We left Costello's to plod up Third 
Avenue through the increasingly foul weather. But he was 
stricken with a fit of coughing in the first shamrock-festooned 
bar in which we stopped and, as the retching and vomiting 
began, had to go quickly to the men's room. Unable, at last, 
not to assert myself, I urged him back to his hotel and put 
him to bed, but only after having had to assure him, almost 
solemnly, that I would not leave the room before he had 
awakened. He slept, breathing heavily, as I fingered through 
some English magazines he had brought with him, and 
watched the early lights of Manhattan come on through the 
sleet. As I contemplated Dylan's deep sleep, I tried first to 
comprehend and then to accept the quality (it was too early 
to know the dimensions) of my assignment, whether it be 
that of reluctant guardian angel, brother's keeper, nursemaid, 
amanuensis, or bar companion; no one term would serve to 
define a relationship which had overwhelmed my expectations 
and already forced upon me a personal concern that was con- 
stantly puzzled, increasingly solicitous and, I knew well by 
now, impossible to escape. 

Our engagement for the evening was with a young aca- 
demic critic who had published a perceptive essay on Dylan's 
work and who had been one of the first people to ask me to 
persuade Dylan to come to dinner. Refreshed, apparently, by 
two hours of sleep, Dylan was quite himself again when we 
arrived at the apartment on 12th Street. We bounced into a 
fourth-floor room where we were introduced to a group of 
scholar-teachers and their wives, among them two men who 

[ 15 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

were expert dissectors of the works of James Joyce. Dylan ac- 
cepted a drink but would have nothing to eat. On this first 
social occasion in New York, he grew alarmingly bold and 
assertive telling bawdy, scatological stories, making prepos- 
terous suggestions to the ladies, answering serious questions 
about certain of his poems with straight-faced obscenity. His 
one-sentence explanation of the central meaning of his Bal- 
lad of the Long-legged Bait was so lewd and searing as to stop 
conversation altogether. That may very well have been his 
intention. He had come for a good time; instead, he was being 
cornered by scholars and critics as if he were their quarry. One 
of the wives had even gone so far as to sit with a notebook, 
pencil in hand, to take down whatever might fall from the 
lips of this bardic clown. Whether Dylan noticed this, or 
understood what the notebook was about, I was never sure. 
It was the sort of well-meaning affront that never failed to 
touch off his drive to quench any show of a sacred-flame atti- 
tude toward him. 

Harvey Breit was that same evening giving a welcoming 
party for Dylan at his apartment in the East Fifties. We got 
away from the dinner party with a sense of relief on 
Dylan's part because the company had caged him, on my part 
because it had been painful to see him caricature the worst 
version of himself before people who were likely to see no 
other. As we floundered uptown in my car through piled-up 
snow and ice, he began to fall asleep. He had drunk too fast 
and too much and while by now I needed no further evi- 
dence of his incredible capacity, I could see that he was feel- 
ing the effects of this evening's bout more sharply than those 
of any other since he had arrived. His chin fell onto his chest 
as we plowed along, and he slept until his cigarette burned 

[ 16 ] 

*95 0: February June 

his fingers, jerking him awake. Since he had had no more than 
three or four hours in bed since he had stepped from the 
plane two days before, I suggested that we give up the party 
and return to the hotel. But he would not hear of this. Mut- 
tering that he would be all right in a moment, he slumped 
back into sleep. Parked on a mound of slush in front of Har- 
vey Breit's apartment, with the motor running and the car- 
heater on, we sat for more than an hour. Dylan snored, as I 
wondered to myself just what to do about so recalcitrant a 
bundle of manhood. Speculation was useless; but since he was 
at last getting some sleep, I was determined to make no move 
to awaken him even if we had to sit right where we were un- 
til dawn. The "purest lyrical poet of the twentieth century * 
here he was, sadly crumpled in drunken exhaustion, "Black- 
tongued and tipsy from salvation's bottle," unable to think for 
himself, to face himself, or to face for what they were the 
insatiable attentions that could only destroy him. No poet can 
live wholly in his poetry, or by it yet the already apparent 
discrepancy in Dylan's life between the disciplines of art and 
the consolations of liquor, barroom garrulity, encounters with 
strangers and endless questing for meaningless experience, 
confounded and alarmed me. I knew that, above all now, I 
wanted to take care of him against my will to impose my 
notions of sanity on his; even, inadmissibly, to protect him 
from himself. Just as certainly, I knew that I wanted to get 
rid of him, to save myself from having to be party to his self- 
devouring miseries and to forestall any further waiting upon 
his inevitable collapses. Yet I could do neither. This weak- 
ness, this ability neither to reject nor to accept, neither wholly 
to go nor to stay, troubled the air through which now I had to 
witness the phenomenon of Dylan Thomas. 

[ 17 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Oblivious to pelting hail and the sloshing of traffic, Dylan 
slept on. Then, bolt upright, he came awake all at once in 
the way which I soon came to know as characteristic. He was 
all for the party now: what were we doing just sitting here? 
We went up into a room buzzing with writers and editors, 
some of whom were old friends of mine. Wystan Auden was 
there, James Agee, Louis Kronenberger and the Trillings, 
Lionel and Diana, and James and Tania Stern and Charles 
Rolo, Katherine Anne Porter and many others. As Dylan, by a 
loud and awkward entrance, seemed to demand considerably 
more attention than the party was disposed to grant him, be- 
coming again the very figure of the wine-soaked poet, I 
looked at Auden and winced inwardly. I could not help feel- 
ing that his eyes showed more than a hint of accusation, that 
before the evening was out he would somehow say, "I told 
you so." Weeks before, I had run into him at a subway stop. 
He had questioned me about Dylan's announced coming and, 
in view of his London reputation for roaring behavior, won- 
dered whether it were wise. I had told him that I had no way 
of knowing whether it were wise or not; all that I knew was 
that Dylan had shown himself most anxious to come, had writ- 
ten me that he had hoped for years that someone would 
sponsor a visit, and that he was at the moment ticketed, 
visaed, and just about ready to depart. 

The first woman on whom Dylan's glazed eyes fell was 
Ruth Ford, the actress, who had just come from her night's 
performance. She knew Dylan's work well, and told him that 
she kept a "pin-up boy" picture of him in her dressing room. 
This was far more encouragement than he needed, and while 
his approach toward her was a lurching one, it was otherwise 
direct and not without crudity. With considerable art and 

*95 0: February June 

charm which, under the circumstances, was rather more than 
he deserved, she kept him at a respectable distance. He 
seemed neither offended nor encouraged; if, presumably, he 
was still capable of reacting to any influence. On later occa- 
sions, when other shocked, petrified or merely astonished girls 
found themselves the objects of such straightforward inten- 
tions, I often remembered Ruth Ford's handling of this epi- 
sode, and wished others could, with as much grace, either save 
or ignore a situation that too often ended in outrage and so- 
cial disaster. 

His sudden waking in the car, I could see now, was not the 
bouncing back into life I had thought. Confronting him as he 
foundered blind-drunk through some corner of the party, I 
asked him as firmly as I dared and as gently as I could to 
come along with me to the hotel. He said he would but, even 
after I had repeated my suggestion several times, made no 
move to join me. I debated with myself. Should I somehow 
force him to leave? By what right could I force him to do 
anything? I did not know it then, but I was in the dead center 
of a dilemma that was to recur a hundred times. It had be- 
come impossible for me to carry on conversation with any- 
one. To turn my eyes from Dylan was but to encounter faces 
the spectacle of him made sad and uncomfortable, eyes that 
implored me to do something. Goaded by them and by my 
new ill-fitting sense of responsibility, I still could do nothing 
but loathe my indecision and wish that I were miles away. 
When Katherine Anne Porter, toward whom Dylan had made 
mumbling, fumbling and gently rebuffed overtures through 
the course of the party, was about to leave, he approached 
her again, to suggest that they make a date for a drink on the 
following day, and to announce that he was going to accom- 

[ 19 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

pany her home right then. As she was politely refusing both 
of his notions, Dylan held her hands in his, and, in his most 
engaging baby-owl manner, told her how glad he was to have 
met her; then suddenly, as if she had no more weight than a 
doll, lifted her in her coat and gloves until her head was 
within an inch of the ceiling, and kept her there. Indecision 
left me at this point; through a little group of half-amused, 
half-appalled witnesses, I stepped forward to indicate to Dylan 
that the party was over. In greater composure than any of us, 
in spite of her unexpected elevation, Katherine Anne was 
able to say a final good night to Dylan, though not until he 
had followed her halfway down the stairs. When I helped him 
into his coat, he was all at once the most docile of literary 
lions and quite willing to be led away. 

I took him to his hotel and wanted to see him to his room, 
but he insisted that he was quite all right. Surprisingly now, 
he looked all right. I bade him good night in the lobby, and 
went off through the sleet. My own vision and sense of things 
must have been badly impaired. As I learned two days later, 
Dylan's progress toward his room, which could hardly have 
involved more than an elevator ride and a few steps along a 
corridor, was nevertheless so spectacular that the manage- 
ment suggested he find quarters elsewhere. 

After sleeping until noon, I found Dylan on Third Avenue, 
morosely having a drink by himself in a bar where, hours be- 
fore, he had been the morning's first customer. Since he was 
scheduled to give his first American reading that evening at 
the Poetry Center, I persuaded him to go back to the hotel 
for a few more hours of sleep. He said he felt "like death it- 
self," and seemed, again, quite willing to lean on my direc- 

ig5-' February June 

tion. Meanwhile, I had heard from Patrick Boland, whose si- 
lence of two days had puzzled both Dylan and me. The last 
lap of Dylan's first marathon day in America, I learned, had 
been too much for him. As their night about the Village had 
continued into morning, he found he could not leave, and that 
he could not stay without literally holding on to the bar. 
When, finally, he had coaxed himself away from Dylan and a 
charmed circle of new companions, he fared homeward 
through a nightmare of driving sleet and snow. After nearly 
an hour of confused wandering, he hailed a taxi, collapsed on 
the street in front of it, and got to his hotel covered with 
bruises and trailing blood. He had been in bed ever since, 
doctors and bellboys turning his hotel room into a hospital 

When I told Dylan what had happened, he said we must 
absolutely visit Patrick before the day was out. He slept for a 
couple of hours then, and awoke announcing that it was time 
for us to make our sickbed call. Wan and alone with his 
bruises and quite the saddest Midwesterner in New York, Pat- 
rick picked up under Dylan's affectionate concern and de- 
cided that perhaps he could get out of bed to have dinner with 
us ... especially when Dylan had made our visit the occa- 
sion of his American debut, private though it was, as a reader. 
The poems he chose to read to hasten Patrick's recovery were 
selections from James Stephens, Andrew Young, W. H. Davies 
and W. H. Auden. "He loved the poems he read," Patrick 
wrote later, "and he loved reading them; and I think that it 
was while, nervous and sick as he was, he went through his 
special rehearsal and showed such great good nature that I 
first loved him as a person above the poet. . . . Nervous and 
sick he was. You remember that he started to vomit and called 

Dylan Thomas in America 

us into the bathroom after him to see 'some more of that 
bloody blood/ I know now (since I had my own) that he 
must have had an ulcer but when I asked you what he had 
you said he had told you he had cirrhosis of the liver. I 
wanted to call a doctor but he would not let me. He took his 
chair again, and a swallow of beer which he immediately 
coughed back against the window; and then he took another 
swallow and began gaily to read again." 

We phoned Howard Moss, who joined us at the hotel, and 
started to walk to dinner at a Broadway restaurant, the Blue 
Ribbon. Dylan had another sick spell, vomited on the street 
between parked cars, then had to borrow Howard's handker- 
chief to wipe the tears from his eyes. When we were settled 
at our table, Dylan said he could not eat a thing, but I per- 
suaded him into allowing me to order a dozen oysters which, 
surprisingly, he downed in a couple of minutes. Since I had 
been attempting, without any success, to get him to eat at 
least one full meal a day, I took inordinate satisfaction even 
in this. He was completely sober during the meal, and I hardly 
knew to what to attribute the change. Later I knew that it 
was my first experience of the bone-chilling anxiety that 
gripped him before almost every one of his public appear- 
ances. His appetite went away altogether, alcohol seemed 
only to make him more sober. During these times his face 
would become sepulchral, his whole body sag in a doomed 
sort of resignation. Nevertheless, he would continue to talk to 
entertain himself and the company. But beneath the social 
demeanor he was apprehensive and cold to the marrow. Each 
of us felt the change in him, and tried to divert him or en- 
courage him to divert himself. He took up our conversational 
leads, told us scandalous stories about members of Parliament 

February June 

and dirty jokes about the royal family. But this was all just 
talk to keep things going, and we could see that he was not 

In the taxi uptown the first of many doomed last-miles 
along which I was to accompany him toward that moment 
when he would come face to face with his public he was 
alternately morbid and self-pitying, talkative and gay. One 
minute, as if he had no care in the world, he was singing 

She went to the city 
To be on a committee, 
But someone touched her 
And she went back home. 

And the next minute he was bemoaning, as he always did, 
the events that had led him to this present pass, wishing he 
were Host and proud" instead of "found and humble," and 
bracing himself spiritually against the terrors of his first Amer- 
ican audience. The Kaufmann Auditorium of the YM-YWHA 
was filled to capacity, with many standees; more than a thou- 
sand people were waiting for him. Backstage, he asked for a 
cold glass of beer and this was quickly brought. Then, barely 
five minutes before he was to go on stage, he was overtaken 
by a coughing attack so violent I had to hold him to enable 
him to keep his feet. While I tried to help in a helpless situa- 
tion, he retched into a basin as if he would never stop. Yet at 
the appointed time, he walked onto the stage, shoulders 
straight, chest out in his staunch and pouter-pigeon advance, 
and proceeded to give the first of those performances which 
were to bring to America a whole new conception of poetry 
reading. The enormous range and organ-deep resonance of 
his voice as he read from Yeats, Hardy, Auden, Lawrence, 

Dylan Thomas in America 

MacNeice, Alun Lewis and Edith Sitwell gave new music to 
familiar cadences and, at times, revealed values in the poems 
never disclosed on the page. When he concluded the evening 
with a selection of his own works encompassing both ten- 
derly lyrical and oratorical passages with absolute authority 
it was difficult to know which gave the greater pleasure, 
the music or the meaning. Some of his listeners were moved 
by the almost sacred sense of his approach to language; some 
by the bravado of a modern poet whose themes dealt directly 
and unapologetically with birth and death and the presence 
of God; some were entertained merely by the plangent vir- 
tuosity of an actor with a great voice. In every case, the re- 
sponse was one of delight. Ovations greeting him as he came 
on and as he went off were tremendous, but the sweat on his 
brow flowed no less copiously either time. It was my first full 
and striking knowledge of the fact that Dylan was alone, that 
he had been born into a loneliness beyond the comprehen- 
sion of those of us who feel we live in loneliness, and that 
those recognitions of success or failure by which we can sur- 
vive meant nothing to him. 

An editor of a leading literary magazine was giving a party 
for Dylan at his Park Avenue apartment after the reading. As 
soon as I could diplomatically extricate Dylan from the en- 
veloping crowd of autograph-seekers and "ardents," as he 
called them, we started to walk the few blocks toward the 
apartment. But the first bar in sight was, inevitably, our first 
stop. He ordered a beer, sipped it once, then, staring into a 
tinted mirror in a sort of momentary trance, hoarsely whis- 
pered the last lines of Yeats's Lapis Lazuli: 

their eyes, 
Their ancient glittering eyes, are gay. 

[ 24 ] 

*95 0: February June 

As we moved on, he became ill again and began to cough in 
a spasm so binding it seemed he would break asunder. After 
he had vomited in the street, he was leaning, faint with ex- 
haustion, against the side of a brick building, yet still not 
ready to give up the party, when I hailed a cab and took him 
to the hotel, persuaded him to take a sedative and put him 
to bed. Feeling the need of a solid night's sleep myself, I 
took the 12:30 train to Westport where I lived, and was back 
in New York just after noon on the following day. 

Dylan was in bed, brooding over his just having been told 
that he would have to leave the hotel at once. His orders for 
beer were being refused crossly when he phoned Bar Service, 
and he was wretchedly depressed and sobered by the whole 
situation. Allen Curnow, the New Zealander, had stopped by. 
While Dylan writhed on his sickbed, cursing the Beekman 
Tower Hotel and all its "rat-faced" staff, he packed his things 
and then removed him and them to Midston House, on 38th 
Street at Madison Avenue, where Allen was staying. It was 
now late afternoon. Though he had had nothing to eat all 
day, Dylan refused any suggestion of food. I went out to a 
drugstore and brought back an enormous milk shake. He 
drank this, and said it was wonderful. I went out and got him 
another one and he drank that. At last I had come upon a 
way to keep him nourished. But he continued to feel ill, 
groaned in misery and impatience as he lay on his bed, and 
turned his face to the wall. Oscar Williams had come by to 
visit, bringing news of offers from magazine editors for new 
poems of Dylan's, but Dylan was in no condition to discuss 
such matters. A doctor was called. He prescribed medications 
which soon put Dylan into a deep sleep. 

[ *5 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

While his first real night's rest in New York was an artifi- 
cially induced one, it served to restore him to a state of well- 
being he had probably last felt in England. I found him cheer- 
ily dressing himself the next morning, combed, crisp and 
bright-eyed and something I should never have predicted 
frankly interested in seeing something of New York City. 
We got in my car and headed for Harlem. When we had 
crossed back and forth through the area from Sugar Hill to 
Lexington Avenue, we parked the car near Lenox Avenue 
and wandered about on foot. At an outdoor newsstand Dylan 
bought several copies of Negro picture-magazines, saying 
that he wanted to send them to English friends who would be 
sure to find them amazing. We had a light sea-food lunch and 
a single glass of beer in an almost empty restaurant on 125th 
Street, then drove leisurely around the edge of Manhattan in 
the misty quiet of a gray Saturday afternoon. As I pointed out 
landmarks, Dylan seemed to have settled back comfortably to 
take in everything, yet had very little to say. Sober or not 
sober, he was as observant as anyone, but it was often puz- 
zling to know just what had impressed him about a place or a 
situation until, sometimes months later, he would make a 
remark proving he had noted everything in detail. 

When our circle tour had taken us all the way from the 
Bronx down to the Battery and back up to the Village, we 
stopped at a desolate little bar on Christopher Street just be- 
cause it was in the basement of an old brick house and looked 
sadly in need of patronage. Since we were still at leisure, with 
no appointment to be concerned about for hours, I asked 
Dylan if there were anyone in New York he might like to 
visit. When he mentioned that he had hoped to meet E. E. 
Cummings, I phoned Marion Morehouse (Mrs. Cummings), 

[ 26 ] 

*95 O; February June 

who said they would be delighted to have us come over right 
away. We walked the few blocks to Patchin Place where one 
apartment house holds Cummings's living quarters and his 
studio. Once they had overcome a brief, exploratory and mu- 
tual shyness, Dylan and Cummings seemed happily at ease 
and intimately sympathetic as they came upon ways to ex- 
press the curiously double-edged iconoclasm that marks the 
work and character of each of them. As our teatime con- 
versation ranged lightly over literary terrain, it seemed to me 
that some of their judgments showed the acerb, profound and 
confident insights of artists who in their work have defined a 
world within the world, and that some showed merely the 
conspiratorial naughtiness of gleefully clever schoolboys. 
Cummings's poetry, both Dylan and I knew, had for years 
met with determined or outraged resistance in England; often, 
with but a puzzled and tentative interest. Introducing this 
subject himself, Cummings told us of recent instances when 
a book of his had been returned to its English publisher by 
wary reviewers who suspected a literary hoax. In distinction 
to this reaction, Cummings was touched, I felt, to have been 
paid the first respect of a British poet whose work he re- 
garded so highly. He had been so moved by Dylan's reading 
the previous Thursday evening, his wife told me, that he had 
left the auditorium to walk the streets alone for hours. 

Dylan was to go to dinner that evening with the painter, 
William Stanley Hayter, and his wife at their apartment on 
Central Park West. Back at Midston House, still in the glow 
of his visit with Cummings, whose simplicity and easy humor 
had quite disarmed him, Dylan changed into the blue suit 
and polka-dot bow tie that had now become his conventional 
reading costume, fussed for a while over the order of poems 

[ 27 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

for his second Poetry Center recital that evening, gathered up 
the several books and papers from which he would read, then 
went off by taxi. A few hours later I joined him at the Hay- 
ters'. Dinner was over, and he had begun to sink into the 
coils of his pre-reading Angst. Slumped into the corner of a 
taxi, begging for any sign of reprieve, he was the doomed 
man again as I went with him toward his place of execution. 
But once on the stage he seemed to rise up out of himself 
to give another ringing performance. This time he was hale 
enough afterwards to attend a small party at the apartment 
of Lloyd Frankenberg, the poet, and his wife, the painter, 
Loren Maclver, and later to drink through the long night on 
the itinerary of Village bars that would shortly become stand- 

With two resonant performances behind him he was now 
scheduled to be away from New York for almost two months, 
during which he would journey as far west as San Francisco, 
as far north as Vancouver, as far south as Florida. In his first 
four days in America he had exhibited himself at his worst 
and at his best. His readings were more wonderful than any- 
one had anticipated; his personal behavior had already led to 
the cancellation of a number of parties and receptions 
planned in his honor. My own affection for him, transformed 
from an impersonal devotion into an almost hourly concern, 
had grown steadily, perhaps just a little faster than my fears 
for the consequences of his obsessive drinking and my increas- 
ingly biting anxiety about the responsibility his dependence 
had imposed. He seemed to count upon my help in every 
way, and to take me for granted in terms for which I was 
still not prepared; yet, beyond our busy engagement in those 

[ 28 ] 

: February June 

matters for which he had come to America and the often ab- 
surdly intimate situations they entailed, I felt no conviction 
that I was personally one whit more important to him than 
any of a dozen others he had met and found congenial. One 
of the most beguiling things about Dylan's social character 
was the spell-like illusion of intimacy he would cast upon 
anyone who came near. The greatest of his gifts was the hu- 
man touch an exercise of sympathy so natural, effortless 
and constant that his life seemed sometimes to be the furious 
denial of a saintliness he could not hide. He was instinctively 
and helplessly drawn to innocence in all its forms; he could 
detect malice, meanness and perversion of spirit as if they 
were odors. Since it was no trouble at all to make a friend of 
Dylan, many people, most of whom he would not even recog- 
nize on a second encounter, blithely claimed him as an in- 
timate. While their claims, like all claims upon Dylan's good- 
ness, were valid, they could never lead to preference. 
Everyone, it seemed, could command his intimate attention; 
yet he had bestowed it on no one. 

Since his first stop outside of New York was to be a brief 
visit with me at home, on Sunday afternoon we drove to 
Westport on the Merritt Parkway. At last he found excite- 
ment in one of those American phenomena all visitors are 
supposed to find remarkable. Shining lines of chromium- 
plated cars visible almost bumper to bumper from the Park- 
way hilltops struck him as incredible and he said so. As we 
drove leisurely into Connecticut, he drew me out about my 
poetry, pleasing me by knowing far more about it than I had 
any reason to expect, and then he somewhat coyly indicated 
that he knew more about me personally than my limited cor- 
respondence with him could have revealed. He explained that, 

Dylan Thomas in America 

before accepting my invitation to come to America, he had 
written for information about me to his publisher, James 
Laughlin of New Directions. My fifteen-year acquaintance 
with Laughlin had apparently provided sufficient knowledge 
to reassure Dylan and to encourage him to proceed. And as 
we confessed the fanciful pictures of one another we had car- 
ried to the moment of our meeting at Idlewild pictures that 
had since been quite obliterated or dissolved I remembered 
the two letters I had received from Dylan before his coming. 
The first had been brief, simply expressing his pleasure in 
"the honour you have paid me," and his intention to come to 
New York as soon as he could put his affairs in order. The 
second was far less formal leading me to believe that either 
my interim letter to him or some other relaxing influence had 
penetrated the reserve in which he had composed the first: 


First of all: many apologies for this month-long delay 
in answering your extremely nice and helpful letter. My 
lying cable said, "Letter in mail." And I did intend to 
write at once, but had to go away, felt suddenly ill, clean 
forgot, put it off for a rainy day, was struck by lightning, 
any or all of these. 

Thank you profoundly for your letter. I can't tell you 
how pleased I am that you should have suggested you 
look after my readings. I can think of nothing more sensi- 
bly pleasant. What an abominable phrase! Nothing I have 
ever enjoyed has been sensibly pleasant. I mean, I can 
think of nothing better. I was very nervous about my 
visit: that is, about the arranging of readings to make 
some money. I should have made a mess of things. My 
life here, in the deep country, is incredibly complicated; 
but, in a city, I spin like a top. And procrastination is an 
element in which I live. Thank you, very much indeed, 

[ 30 ] 

I 95 O; February June 

for having, in the first place, made my visit possible, and 
for wishing to work with me. Naturally, I couldn't :?Uow 
you to work with me if you did not take a percentage for 
all the troublesome work you'll have to do. I feel re- 
lieved now, and can face the whole undertaking with 
only quite minor paralysis. 

As to the number of readings: you say that you will be 
able, you think, "to arrange for, at least, fifteen engage- 
ments, and, very likely, considerably more." How many 
jobs do you think I should do? I don't want to work 
my head off, but, on the other hand, I do want to return 
to England with some dollars in my pocket. And, of 
course, I want to get around the States a bit. Ill have to 
leave this to you. I hand the baby over, with bewildered 

About the readings themselves: Is there any strong 
reason why my readings should all be devoted to my 
own work? I most sincerely hope not. What I should 
like to do, more than anything else, is to read from a 
number of contemporary British poets, including myself. 
I far prefer reading other chaps' work to my own: I find 
it clearer. An hour of me aloud is hell, and produces 
large burning spots in front of the mind. 

Will you be seeing Laughlin? He wrote to me about 
the same time you did, saying that "to make any real 
money for you, things will have to be done hard and 
tough and business-like." I hope you're an adamantine 
tartar. Laughlin also suggests that "it might be well to 
get up a variant program in which you would read the 
classic English poets." What do you think? Personally, I 
shall be glad to read anything and will certainly do 
my best to make it entertaining except poems in dia- 
lect, hymns to Stalin, anything over 500 lines. Dare I, 
in my Welsh-English voice, read any American poets to 
American audiences? Over here, when I give broadcast 
readings, I quite often read some Ransom. But I do very 
much want to read from other contemporary British 

[ 31 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

poets. At the mere thought of reading only myself, I 
begin to feel hunted, invisible trolls shake hands with 
my Adam's apple. 

Very many thanks again, for what you have done and 
will do, for all the friendliness. 

Laughlin says there will be a party for me at the 
Gotham Book Mart as soon as I get there: I shall polish 
up my glass belly. 

With best wishes, 
Yours sincerely, 

As we filed along in the heavy Sunday traffic, we began to 
speak of political trends here and in Great Britain. He had 
signed the Stockholm Peace Petition in the previous year, he 
said, had been attacked for it in the press along with many 
other prominent Britons, and wondered what effect that pub- 
licity might have on his American appearances. When he had 
applied in London for an American visa, he had been subject 
to questions which had made him angry, but also apprehen- 
sive. He had been asked, for instance, whether he would at- 
tend a song-recital of Paul Robeson's. He had answered in the 
affirmative. Then his interrogator had rather portentously 
queried him about a literary conference in Prague which 
Dylan had recently attended and he had to admit that his ex- 
penses were paid by his hosts behind the Iron Curtain. But 
finally suspicions were allayed and he had received the official 
approval that designated him as politically harmless. This was 
certainly applicable. Dylan's political naivete, it seemed to 
me, was a consequence of his promiscuous affection for hu- 
manity and of his need for emotional identification with the 
lowest stratum of society. His socialism was basically Tol- 
stoyan, the attempt of the spiritual aristocrat to hold in one 

[ 3* i 

*95 0; February June 

embrace the good heart of mankind, a gesture and a purpose 
uncontaminated by the realpolitik of the twentieth century. 
While he expressed himself strongly on political matters and 
tended indiscriminately to support the far Left, his attitude 
was a kind of stance unsupported by knowledge, almost in 
defiance of knowledge. As long as, anywhere in the world, 
there existed groups of men pilloried by the forces of prop- 
ertied power, Dylan wanted to be counted among their sym- 
pathizers. And yet no political manifestation of this ever 
showed in his poetry. Americans who had celebrated him as 
the romantic liberator as the poet who had broken the dom- 
ination of the once politically-minded generation of Auden, 
Spender, MacNeice and Lewis would have been perplexed 
to find that he was actually far more censorious of the status 
quo than any of the other British poets. As far as America 
was concerned, this was Dylan's unguarded secret a secret 
in which no one showed the least interest. 

We turned off the Parkway at Westport and drove to the 
small, severely modern house in which I then lived an asep- 
tic sort of structure of planes and colored surfaces that 
seemed more like a city apartment set down on a rocky crag 
than like a house. We made a light supper together, reminisc- 
ing about the four frenetic days of his visit as if they were 
four bygone years. By early evening the country silence had 
become a little oppressive. Perhaps because I was feeling 
inadequate to entertain Dylan now that we were alone and 
quite removed from everything that had entertained him in 
New York, or perhaps because I noticed signs of restlessness 
in him, I suggested we make a sort of suburban pub-crawl 
along the Post Road. It was a crackling cold night, with few 
people in any of the neon-lighted roadstands. But Dylan soon 

[ 33 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

learned the pleasures of the jukebox and the pinball machine 
and we played them all the way to Bridgeport. He was curi- 
ous about the Polish-speaking family groups, wanted to know 
what was in the mixed drinks with the fancy names, and 
talked now and then to lonely people who had come this 
bleak night to look at themselves in barroom mirrors. By late 
evening it had become too cold even for Dylan's comfort, and 
we fled out of the howling wind to visit Peter DeVries, the 
novelist and New Yorker editor who lived not far from me. 
He and his wife, Katinka, made easy good company and 
served us proper drinks until well after midnight. 

Next morning came a letter for Dylan from his wife, 
Caitlin. He had been waiting for this every day, yet now that 
it had arrived he seemed reluctant to open it. He kept the 
letter in his pocket for an hour or so, then went out into the 
foggy cold morning and sat on a rock to open and read it. 
Draped in a voluminous tweed overcoat I had given him, 
lumpishly Byronic on his stony perch, he was the only figure 
in the landscape. He sat there in still contemplation until a 
new event made his position ludicrous: my poodle, Nana, was 
in heat, a condition in which her outings were usually made 
on a leash. But this morning she had somehow escaped sur- 
veillance and had disappeared for hours. When she returned, 
panting and notably disheveled, some twelve or fifteen other 
dogs of many breeds followed in her wake. Nana was let into 
the house and absurdly scolded for her wantonness. The other 
dogs, patient and immovable as the granite on which they 
crouched, settled themselves at observation points around the 
house to wait for her next gala appearance. With the open 
letter in his hand, Dylan sat in a landscape of dogs dogs 
behind him, in front of him, dogs under trees and bushes, dogs 

[ 34 1 

; February June 

on the rocks. From indoors I could make out only snatches of 
what he said, but as he began to lecture them in i?nes of 
commiseration, I did hear him tell them he knew just how 
they felt. They looked at him blankly, keeping their distance 
on other rocks, and paid no attention at all. 

/He came into the house to read me passages of the letter 
phrases and images which, I felt, had the quality of folk 
poetry. "She's a better poet than I am," he said, and read me 
further passages, including one about their infant, Colm, who 
was "sweet as a bee." He put the letter into his pocket, say- 
ing, "Oh, she's the only one for me. I adored her the day I 
married her and now after fourteen years I adore her more 
than ever. When I was little she could carry me across a 
brook. She's stronger than I am now." And then, saying that 
she really had no patience with him ever, he mimicked her 
scoldings: "Mumble, mumble, mumble all you ever do is 
mumble. I haven't understood a word youVe said since the 
day you married me." But while the letter had provided this 
much release, it did not otherwise make him happy, and I 
sensed that his reluctance to open it had been a foreboding of 
what he would find. He pored over magazines and lounged 
about the house all day, not very talkative except once 
when, picking up at random some poems of students I was 
annotating, he spotted phrases he liked and read whole poems 
aloud. The respect he showed for some of these efforts would 
have transported my students into happy delirium. 

Stanley Edgar Hyman, the critic, and his novelist wife, Shir- 
ley Jackson, who lived in a big Victorian house in nearby 
Saugatuck, had asked us to come over in the late afternoon. 
Their children roared through our cocktail hour until they 

[ 35 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

were bribed off with television. We went out for spaghetti at 
an Italian restaurant, and returned to an evening given over 
to televised boxing matches, of which both of the Hymans 
were knowing devotees and, eventually, to some literary talk 
that led to the cooperative plotting of a series of gruesomely 
pathological murder mysteries, in the details of which Dylan 
and Shirley tried to outdo one another. Finally, Dylan gave a 
rather heavy-tongued reading from books of his the Hymans 
took down from their shelves. As usual, we stayed too late 
and drank too much and the evening ended gracelessly, with 
some of us out in the snow, and some of us silent before a 
dead television set. When finally we got back to my house 
about three, the steep icy steps in the rock-face leading up 
to it seemed insurmountable. Literally pushing Dylan ahead 
of me, stopping to catch my breath or to pull him out of the 
snow when I lost control of him, I eventually got him to 
within arm's length of the door. But he would not go in. 
"Now," he said lugubriously, "now you know exactly what 
youVe brought to America." 

Just before I fell asleep, as I glanced across the room, 
Dylan was sitting up with a paper-backed mystery story, his 
bedclothes littered with wrapped and unwrapped nickel 
candy bars he had been secretly collecting for days. I dozed 
off as he contentedly fingered through his hoard of Tootsie 
Rolls, Milky Ways, Baby Ruths and Bit-O'-Honeys. 

He awoke singing and Nana leaped into bed with him. As 
I prepared breakfast two rooms away, I could hear him giving 
her fatherly advice as to proper conduct in her present situa- 
tion, followed by what I supposed were peals of Welsh song. 
After a full breakfast, which he ate without protest and with- 

[ 36 i 

*95 0: February June 

out beer, I had errands to do in Norwalk, a drive of three 
miles. Dylan came with me, and said he would wait in a bar 
until I had completed them. When I rejoined him in less than 
an hour, his face was sunken and he spoke in an almost in- 
audible mutter. He had been insulted: someone had made a 
remark about his speech and called him a foreigner some- 
one in working clothes, and that made it even worse. He 
would not speak further about it except to say, "Let's leave 
this pigsty of a town/' I could not tell whether the real or 
imagined offense had depressed him as deeply as it seemed to, 
or whether he was finally feeling the effects of his roaring 
days in New York. We drove back to Westport, packed his 
ragged baggage and set out after lunch for New Haven where 
he was to read in the late afternoon at Yale. 

But his depression, I could see now, was profound; no word 
of mine could lift it. Slumped in the front seat beside me, he 
slept every mile of the way to New Haven, where I awak- 
ened him in front of the house of friends of mine with whom 
we were to stay overnight. Dylan wanted to buy nylon stock- 
ings for Caitlin, and for his friend Ivy Williams who keeps 
Browns Hotel in his village. We went to a department store 
where an obliging salesgirl assured us they would be sent off 
directly. Then we joined Norman Holmes Pearson in the Pro- 
vost's Office at the Yale Graduate School. He escorted us to 
the lecture hall where a rather modest crowd awaited Dylan's 
first American college appearance. 

Pearson had arranged a dinner party at Mory's in one of the 
upstairs dining rooms for after the reading. There we were 
introduced into a group of seven or eight English professors, 
most of whom seemed confoundingly ill-at-ease and indis- 
posed toward conversation during the hurried few minutes in 

[ 37 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

which we gulped Manhattans before settling ourselves about 
a circular table. For reasons we never understood, certainly 
not as the result of any provocation by Dylan, who came into 
the wary-eyed group in the mildest and most ingratiating hu- 
mor, this occasion at Yale his introduction to academic life 
in America was so grim and stultifying as to become the 
standard against which he would measure every awkward and 
unhappy event. With the exception of Cleanth Brooks, who 
conveyed by his presence more than by anything he said a 
sympathetic recognition of Dylan's dilemma, and of Norman 
Pearson, who was the talkative host to the party, all the pro- 
fessors sat around in a brooding druidic circle apparently 
awaiting an oracle. Perhaps they were offended by Dylan's 
generally disheveled appearance, or put off by his obvious 
disdain for the unremittingly scholarly talk of scholars. Per- 
haps the volubility of so live a poet was too much for those 
who fingered habitually the bones of dead ones. In any case, 
an uneasy sense of waiting, a feeling that nothing was hap- 
pening, turned the meal into a ritual of politeness in which 
the passing of a plate of celery was an event of magnitude. 
Across the table from me Dylan looked trapped and forlorn 
there was no relief to his right or to his left. But when 
coffee was brought in, finally, and somebody handed him a 
cigar, he moved to break the spell. He told a bawdy story 
something about Edward VII and what he had said at the 
dedication of a tunnel. This was received with a feint at muf- 
fled, grudging laughter. He told other stories; uneasiness in 
the room became palpable. While he was in the middle of an 
anecdote about Oscar Wilde and a jockey, the party began 
swiftly to break up. There were mumbled excuses about eve- 
ning appointments, theses to read, wives waiting a general 

[ 38 i 

*95 O: February June 

sense of retreat at once and at all costs. Within five minutes 
the professors had fled into the night, leaving Dylan with his 
unfinished story and a burned-out cigar. 

As Dylan moaned and fumed and I tried to put conviction 
in my assurances that it wouldn't all be like that, we drove to 
a party to which my friends had invited five or six of the 
younger Yale faculty. The wife of one of them was Welsh, 
knew Dylan's part of Wales intimately, and was extraor- 
dinarily pretty. Ignoring her husband's presence as he made 
quite clear the precise nature of his interest in her, Dylan 
drank steadily, released his pent-up high spirits in a flow of 
talk, and told every story that came into his head. He was still 
the loud life of the party when, about two o'clock, I went to 
bed. When I awoke at eight in the morning, the bed across 
from me had not been slept in. In a few minutes I heard our 
hostess coming downstairs. She spoke a greeting to Dylan 
who, groaning and sighing, was fighting his way out of sleep 
on the living-room couch. "I expect I was a pretty bad boy 
last night, wasn't I?" he said. "O Dylan, you were fine, we 
all had a wonderful time." "No, I wasn't," he said, "and do you 
know what the trouble is? I'm going to do the very same 
thing tonight." 

Midmorning we drove him to the railroad station and 
waved him off to Boston, where he was to read that afternoon 
at Harvard. Thinking of my friends in Cambridge, above all 
of F. O. Matthiessen, who would have him in charge, I shud- 
dered a little bit and drove back to Westport. 

So began a relationship of four years which, except for 
brief occasions abroad and a few plateau-like days in this 
country, was a busy matter of greeting Dylan on arrival, 
processing him through the hundreds of official and unofficial 

[ 39 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

engagements he counted on me to oversee, then bidding him 
the farewells that always came like interruptions and, in spite 
of the anxieties and trouble his presence guaranteed, always 
too soon. Since I handled all of his lecture arrangements, and 
all of his finances, we were always in touch and always 
together in matters having to do with his career. His sensi- 
tivity to every nuance of human exchange, his hilarious self- 
deprecating wit, along with his great generosity of mind and 
soul qualities that kept him above and apart from the damn- 
ing, dubious or scurrilous things that were already said about 
him had within the mere space of a week made him the 
most exhausting, exasperating and most completely endearing 
human being I had ever encountered. When I realized that 
to know Dylan was to know a personality having the power 
of a natural force with all the thoughtless, self-driven and 
predestined vitality that the term implies I determined to 
keep our relationship on a strictly professional basis, and so be 
relieved of having to grant the endless indulgence he ex- 
pected and the sort of nursing attendance he demanded. But 
these impulses and the resolutions they engendered simply 
dissolved whenever he turned up. Like almost everyone else 
who came close to Dylan, I assumed that he was far more 
helpless than actually he was. To be a part of his erratic and 
abnormal life was to be drawn into prolonged states of anx- 
iety which, in my case at least, threatened to reach more or 
less to the edge of breakdown. Only after having known him 
for two full years did I realize and begin to act upon a con- 
viction that, when he fell, he fell on his own two feet. 

To make sure that he would not lack information about his 
next reading, and that he would have the names of people 
who might help him to get about, I had in rather naive confi- 

[ 40 i 

195 : February June 

dence prepared for Dylan a diary which told him how he 
would travel, how long it would take to get from one place 
to another, who would meet him, where he would stay, and 
what to do if anything went amiss. This, of course, was in 
addition to arrangements I followed daily by wire and tele- 
phone. While he largely ignored his diary, often left people 
waiting at appointed places and sometimes disappeared alto- 
gether, he almost invariably got to the scenes of his readings 
at the right time and was seldom very far off schedule in his 
sometimes highly complicated travels. Fortunately, there were 
always as many people to look after him as there were those 
who wanted only to keep him talking in a bar. 

His reading at Harvard went well, I gathered from him and 
others, but at Matthiessen's party on Louisburg Square after- 
wards he dismayed his host and a number of guests by be- 
havior that threatened the solidity of antique furniture and 
the virtue of girls from Radcliffe. On the following day, after 
he had made recordings of his poems for John L. Sweeney's 
collection in Lament Library, he was to be driven to Mt. 
Holyoke College by my friend, Gray Burr. In order to have 
them at the college in time for dinner with the faculty com- 
mittee, I had strongly advised, by underlinings and exclama- 
tion points in the diary, that he and Gray leave Cambridge 
no later than one o'clock. But Dylan disappeared from the 
vicinity of Harvard Square for hours; hastily organized search- 
ing parties kept meeting one another in likely places. When 
finally he was spotted and taken in tow, he cajoled his captors 
into having further drinks with him and the journey to Mt. 
Holyoke did not begin until four. En route he insisted on 
stopping at every neon sign that offered beer, and then on 
playing every pinball machine. As the students of Mt. Hoi- 

[ 41 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

yoke were happily trooping into the lecture hall, Dylan, many 
miles away, was attempting, with the sort of tipsy lepre- 
chaun-like blandishments with which he tended to meet Au- 
thority, to placate a traffic cop who had flagged Gray for 
speeding. The cop did his duty and handed in a ticket, but did 
not, as Gray had reasonably expected, haul them away to jail 
for erratic driving. After twice running into snowbanks, they 
got to Mt. Holyoke where Dylan rewarded the long patience 
of the audience with a fine full reading. 

Afterwards there was a reception one of those occasions 
at which a whole harem of college girls in blue jeans and 
Bermuda shorts sprawl on the floor about the feet of the visit- 
ing celebrity. Within this budding grove, Dylan was bewil- 
dered, shocked by the proximity of so much bare flesh care- 
lessly displayed, and incautious in some of his remarks. The 
elder ladies of the faculty, distressed and fidgety, hurried in 
the name of decency to bring the evening to a respectable 
conclusion. As I later learned, they lost no time in sending 
out warning signals from Eastport to Block Island. On his 
visits to other women's colleges Dylan was protected from 
the student body by a cordon of vigilantes passing itself off 
as a guard of honor. 

Peter Viereck, the poet who teaches history at Mt. Hol- 
yoke, and his wife entertained Dylan the following day and 
helped him to get to his next engagement, at Amherst, from 
which he returned to New York by a late train. When I went 
to see him at Midston House I found him limp and sore, un- 
able to shake a day-long hangover. Allen Curnow dropped in, 
followed shortly by Oscar Williams. Dylan ordered beer to be 
sent up and we sat about in commiseration while he tried to 
pull himself together. The editors of a literary journal had in- 

[ 4* i 

; February June 

vited him and me to go to dinner uptown, and Dylan had 
accepted. Oscar came with us to a Viennese restaurant on 
upper Third Avenue, where our hosts were waiting. 

The dinner was not a happy one. Dylan confided to me 
later that he felt he had been needled into making statements 
which were then turned against him in support or defense of 
the editors' Roman Catholic point of view. Under this sus- 
picion, he made indiscreet and foolish attacks on the Church 
which, actually, had little basis in his thinking. Everything 
was at sixes and sevens when I had to leave to catch a train, 
Dylan being ebullient and rude, his hosts obviously uncom- 
fortable but politely making the most of an unexpected situ- 
ation. I was relieved to learn later that rapprochement had 
come about, and that the evening had ended in considerably 
better feeling and in the sale, for a generous price, of one of 
Dylan's unpublished new poems. 

/Much has been said of Dylan's rudeness to people whom 
lie had no cause to offend, but in my association with him 
I rarely saw evidence of it. If he sensed he was being held in 
disapproval, or that he was being attacked, especially if the 
attack was veiled, his way of response was often to refuse to 
talk seriously, to irritate those who sought his opinions by 
lampooning their questions. While drunken carelessness some- 
times led him to assume a childishly minatory face and man- 
ner, these were whimsical rather than malicious or aggres- 
sive gestures. What impressed me always, and on far more 
numerous occasions, was his kindly response to people whose 
only concern with him was arrantly self-interested, as well as 
to those whose stupidity or dullness of mind led them to make 
tedious demands on his attention. The friends he most cher- 
ished in America were, by and large, of no literary or aca- 

[ 43 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

demic importance. It was inevitable in his travels that he 
meet national and local celebrities, and be the guest of literary 
and academic cliques, but he flew all their nets and chose his 
real friends by instinct. 

By this time, even far from Third Avenue, he had come to 
feel quite at home in New York. While he refused to learn 
the comparative values of American coins, and threw them 
away in lavish tips with a fine free hand, he bungled busily 
about the city on his own and, nearly always, managed to get 
to his destinations. He had become most fond of Greenwich 
Village, and every few days or so a new bar would serve as 
headquarters the Minetta Tavern (where he made good 
friends with, and played Maecenas to, Joe Gould, "Professor 
Seagull"), the San Remo and, later, Goody's on Sixth Avenue. 
He continued to drink through the days and to take nourish- 
ment only by whim or accident an egg in brandy for break- 
fast, perhaps, or a hamburger someone would set down before 

I next saw him on March /th, when I turned up in my con- 
vertible (Dylan called it "the incontrovertible") in which we 
were going to drive to Philadelphia for his evening's reading 
at Bryn Mawr. We started off well enough in sunny weather, 
but the trip was punctuated by several bad coughing spells, 
the last of which occurred just before we turned into the 
campus. But when this spasm was broken and he straight- 
ened up in his miraculous way, he wanted an ice-cold beer 
and a cigar. After we had stopped for these, he arrived at the 
college looking like a Celtic businessman. I put him into the 
hands of Professor Mary Woodworth, who had arranged his 
visit. Our bags were taken up to the famous guestroom in the 

[ 44 ] 

*95 0; February June 

Deanery a sort of "Turkish corner" of canopied beds, Ori- 
ental latticework and brass whatnots from the days of Ella 
Wheeler Wilcox. When Professor Woodworth took Dylan off 
to the chapel where nine hundred students awaited him, I 
drove back into Philadelphia to see a pre-Broadway perform- 
ance of a musical comedy in which a friend had her first star- 
ring role. When I came back late to the Deanery, Dylan was 
sleeping beatifically in his Byzantine surroundings and I did 
not wake him. 

He was ill and downcast again in the morning as he coughed 
and flushed his way through breakfast and, later, sat for a stu- 
dent interview. As we drove through heavy traffic toward 
Washington he stared with a glum interest at passing land- 
scapes and had little to say. But after a few stops at roadside 
taverns, his talk and manner brightened and he came to 
Washington in ruminative good humor. When he said he 
would first like to do a bit of sightseeing, we drove about 
rather aimlessly, circling Capitol Hill and eventually getting 
as far as the newly completed Jefferson Monument. He com- 
mented on the incongruity of vistas of heavy Roman archi- 
tecture in this twentieth-century capital, and was not other- 
wise moved by its advertised beauties. Some while later he 
told an interviewer, "Washington isn't a city, it's an abstrac- 
tion." We drove on to Georgetown where Robert Richman, 
sponsor of his Washington reading, awaited us at his home in 
Q Street. There we learned that Dylan was to be the guest, 
for part of the week end at least, of Francis and Katherine 
Biddle, whose big house was just half a block away. After 
leaving him on the Biddies' doorstep, I returned to have din- 
ner with Richman and his wife. Dylan's reading that evening 
was at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, located just a 

[ 45 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

few steps from the White House. Karl Shapiro, the poet 
and editor who, with his wife, Evalyn, had come from 
Baltimore for the event, joined us afterwards when we re- 
turned to the Biddies for a large reception for the literati 
of Washington. In the glow of burning fireplaces and the 
mellowing aura of Georgian elegance, Dylan was a model 
of deportment, the most volatile and charming conversa- 
tionalist in the room. He could accept his surroundings some- 
times with as much grace as, at other times, he would defy 

Next morning he was scheduled to make recordings of his 
poems at the Library of Congress. When I joined him and the 
Biddies for a lingering breakfast, I found him again on his 
best behavior modest, gracious, yet spirited as he took part 
in a rambling discussion, mostly on the state of liberalism 
here and in England. I could see that the Biddies had some- 
how allayed the fear and suspicion of "people in high places" 
that lay behind his sometimes inexplicable behavior. On the 
way to the Library we stopped for a midmorning glass of 
beer. As we sat in a dark booth, Dylan took his wallet from his 
vest pocket and began to finger through its somewhat flimsy 
contents. He did not seem to be looking for anything in par- 
ticular, but then he unfolded a yellowed newspaper clipping. 
It was a photograph, very dim and hazy, of a thin little boy 
dressed in a droopy sort of gymkhana costume. His curly hair 
hung unevenly on his forehead, his face was serious, his eyes 
upturned, no hint of a smile on his lips. The caption beneath 
D. J. THOMAS OF SWANSEA and went on to report that he had 
been the victor in the 22O-yard dash at the annual games 
of some grammar school competition. Dylan had carried this 

[ 46 ] 

*95 0: February June 

grimy scrap of a photograph with him for more than twenty 
years. As he studied it somewhat sadly now, his affection for 
that very thin and very little boy seemed to have opened in 
a moment a world of nostalgia. Very carefully, he folded the 
clipping and inserted it into his wallet. 

At the Library of Congress I introduced him to Elizabeth 
Bishop. In her capacity as Incumbent of the Chair of Poetry, 
she gave him official greetings and took him off to the record- 
ing studios. I went back to the car to set out for Sweet Briar 
College in Virginia, where I was to take part in a week-end 
"festival of the arts." I drove back to Washington early Sun- 
day with two passengers: John Cage, the composer, and 
Merce Cunningham, the modern dancer. They had also taken 
part in the week-end festival. 

Meanwhile, the Biddies had gone to Bermuda, leaving 
Dylan alone in their big house except for servants. Their ab- 
sence was an advantage he could not resist. Before leaving 
his room he opened the drawer of a highboy, lifted out sev- 
eral shirts belonging to one of the male Biddies and stuffed 
them in his bag. As he came downstairs grandly smoking a 
cigar, the Biddies' housekeeper, who had taken a special fancy 
to him, waited to say good-by. "Well," Dylan said, "here goes 
another one of your rich visitors." "You are not a rich man," 
she said. "Oh, aren't I!" said Dylan. "Just what makes you 
think that?" "Because," she said quietly, "I did your laundry." 
As we got into the car, Dylan made no secret of the pur- 
loined shirts. I told him it was absurd to steal from the Bid- 
dies, that we could buy him other shirts tomorrow or the next 
day, and that the whole thing was silly and childish. But, no, 
the shirts stayed in his bag. When, inevitably, his theft was 
found out some weeks later, the Biddies told one of my Wash- 

[ 47 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

ington friends that they hoped only that the shirts he had 
taken were of a proper fit. 

The journey north along U.S. i was tediously slowed by 
heavy traffic, but Dylan was in fine fettle. His Washington 
visit had been unexpectedly pleasant, he had especially en- 
joyed dinner and a long evening with Huntington Cairns, the 
art critic and official of the National Gallery, and he had been 
delighted to encounter a number of British friends who were 
correspondents for London newspapers or who had posts in 
the Embassy. We stopped for a single beer outside of Balti- 
more, and he and John Cage began to weave a zany, point- 
less and disconnected conversation that lasted all day. It was 
as if Dylan found Cage's contrary views on anything conven- 
tional or, for that matter, on anything remotely human, an 
irresistible goad to flights of his own. Merce and I were far 
more audience than they needed in this mood, and the trip 
was entertained by hilariously insane discourses on life in 
America. It was on this occasion that I first became aware of 
a fact about Dylan for which I still cannot account the fact 
that, without liquor at all, or with but a glass or two of beer, 
he would often move into a state of euphoria precisely like 
that state of uninhibited gaiety common to people who de- 
pend upon liquor. His talk all that day was wildly fanciful, 
funny and drunken, and yet he had had nothing to drink but 
two small glasses of beer. This observation made me feel that 
my first and most obvious suspicion was a true one: that 
Dylan drank primarily in defense, out of a need for a barrier 
between his guilt and his laughter, between himself and the 
world around him, even between himself and one other per- 
son. When he felt this need and I had begun to under- 
stand by now that his coming to America had been under- 

[ 48 i 

*95 O; February June 

taken in nothing short of terror intoxication was a kind of 
license by which he was able to participate in, and at the 
same time keep himself responsibly removed from, situations 
he could not control. When his imagination was free and he 
was at ease with his surroundings, liquor became but an in- 
cidental amenity and not the center of interest. His poems 
were always written when he was sober a fact which em- 
phasizes, partly, his respect for his art, but more signifi- 
cantly allows of careful discrimination between Dylan and the 
conventional alcoholic. His drinking was not a means of deny- 
ing or fleeing life, not a way of making it tolerable, but of 
fiercely embracing it. When he was creatively alive, his ge- 
nius was his whole stimulant. On this occasion, John and 
Merce were sensitive and easy companions and, like not too 
many other passing acquaintances, offered Dylan no challenge 
as a person, put him on no guard as an intellect or as a for- 
eigner, but simply accepted him with a human respect he 
could instantly recognize. The result was a sort of drunken 
spree without drunkenness. 

He read his poems at Columbia University the next day. I 
did not see him until Tuesday afternoon when I turned up 
with a fistful of plane and train tickets, and written directions 
I hoped would successfully launch him on his junket to the 
West Coast. He had been out on the town until after four 
A.M., had spent a dreadful day with a pounding hangover, 
and had not turned a hand to packing. We quickly put basic 
things into the one bag he was going to take and hurried to 
an airline office from which he would leave for Ithaca and 
his reading that evening at Cornell. Looking rather more like 
an unhappy child being sent off to school than like a poet on 
a triumphal tour, he waved from a window of the bus and 

[ 49 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

went off for six crowded weeks of traveling and reading. 

In that time he roared across the continent creating the 
legend that still grows and changes and threatens altogether 
to becloud the personality of the man who wrote the poems 
of Dylan Thomas. At first, it was a legend at least tenuously 
related to plausible actions and conversations in plausible 
places. But soon, like all legends, it snowballed through fact 
and fancy alike, and became too big and complicated to allow 
for the separation of truth from malice, fantasy from the eas- 
ier forms of hyperbole. If Dylan had done and said all that 
was reported as truth, he would not have been tolerated in 
even the most liberal of surroundings; if his rumored carousals 
and lecheries had been as outrageous and consistent as they 
were said to be he would have been hauled off to jail or com- 
mitted to an asylum. It was as if Dylan were the vehicle by 
which imagination might ride out of academic doldrums. 
Since he was expected always to say and do shocking things, 
and since he very often failed to do either, certain elements 
of his public, determined to keep Dylan as their poet-clown, 
made up stories of what he should have done and said. In the 
long run, of course, this became more of a comment on his 
public than on him. 

Beginning with his stop-over at Cornell, he went on by 
train to Kenyon College in Ohio, the University of Chicago, 
Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, the State University of 
Iowa. After a few days in Iowa City, he flew to San Francisco 
to read first at the University of California, and later at the 
University of British Columbia. A report of his reading which 
appeared in the Vancouver News-Herald was typical of the 
tributes he gathered: "Within this generation, there has been 
no equally impressive and delightful poetry recital in Van- 

[ 50 ] 

*95 : February June 

couver and audiences were scarcely prepared for the power- 
ful emotional experience with which they were presented." 
In Seattle a few days later he read at the University of Wash- 
ington, then flew south for visits to the University of Cali- 
fornia at Los Angeles, Pomona College, the Santa Barbara 
Museum and Santa Barbara College, and finally to Mills Col- 
lege and San Francisco State College. In San Francisco, after 
stopping for a few days at the old Palace Hotel, he was the 
house guest of Ruth Witt-Diamant, a teacher at San Fran- 
cisco State, who became Dylan's close friend and, later, a 
close friend of his wife. 

I next saw him on April 24th in his room at the Hotel 
Earle on Waverley Place in the Village, where we talked for 
two pleasantly unhurried hours over a bottle of Grand 
Marnier someone had given him. Dylan seemed remarkably 
hale, in quiet command of himself and his many affairs, said 
he had had a marvelous time seeing America, but that com- 
ing back to New York was like coming home to the most 
wonderful place of all. The city which, he wrote later, had 
first struck him as "all of a sheepish never-sleeping heap," 
now, "after the ulcerous rigours of a lecturer's spring," seemed 
to be "a haven as cosy as toast, cool as an icebox, and safe as 
skyscrapers." The worst thing he had had to put up with was 
travel itself; he wished his wanderings were over and done 
with. Of all the cities he had visited, he was most warmly im- 
pressed with San Francisco, then Chicago and Hollywood. 
What he meant, I thought, was that these were the places 
where he was most congenially entertained, or where, in the 
company of one or two unconventional or maverick spirits, 
he could break away from reception committees and faculty 

[ 51 l 

Dylan Thomas in America 

teas to put his foot on a brass rail. Dylan was a sightseer only 
by whim or entrapment. For him the flavor of a town was 
apparent largely in the kind and number of its publike bars, 
and in the degree of accessibility to them. His ideal metrop- 
olis, I sometimes felt, would have been an interminable skid 
road. Probably sensing this, Nelson Algren, the Chicago nov- 
elist, for whom Dylan had developed enthusiastic affection, 
introduced him to people and places he could never have un- 
covered without a knowing guide who was himself persona 
grata in the dives of the South Side. 

For part of his Hollywood visit he had been the guest of 
Christopher Isherwood. His report of the British novelist's 
life which, to Dylan, seemed to be all of a sun-baked ambi- 
ence on the sands of southern California, was not without acid 
or without envy. When Isherwood had asked him what he 
wanted to do and whom he wanted to see, Dylan had told 
him that all his life long he had wanted to come to Holly- 
wood for two reasons: to meet Charles Chaplin, and to have 
a date with an "ash-blonde" movie star. These wishes were 
both granted in one evening. 

The "ash-blonde" who became his partner at dinner with 
Isherwood and a small group of friends was Shelley Winters. 
While Dylan had not previously heard of her, she surprised 
him by remarks that showed she knew not only of him, but 
that she was acquainted with his work. Nevertheless, Dylan 
refused to address her by her given name because, he told 
her, that would be odd and upsetting. Shortly after they had 
met, they had sat down for drinks somewhere and, according 
to Dylan, talked mostly of baseball, of which he knew noth- 
ing. Eventually the conversation changed, becoming centered 

[ 5* 1 

*95 0; February June 

in Dylan's appreciative enumeration of Miss Winters' more 
obvious physical attractions, which he had wanted to measure 
for himself. But he was rebuffed, he said, in language which 
was as direct as a stevedore's and notably more colorful. 

When they joined the dinner party at a Hollywood restau- 
rant, Frank Taylor, the well-known New York editor who 
was then working with one of the movie studios, phoned 
Charles Chaplin to tell him of Dylan's great hope of meeting 
him. This resulted in an invitation to come to Chaplin's home 
for the evening. When the group arrived, they were greeted 
with an impromptu commedia delTarte performance in which 
with a grace and skill at which Dylan marveled, Chaplin trav- 
estied the manners of a perfect host, a butler and a cloak- 
room maid. Shaken by his contretemps with Miss Winters, 
who herself had been made morose by the behavior of this 
tipsy poet from Wales, Dylan was at first not wholly in com- 
mand of himself. But, before long, exhilarated to hear Chaplin 
laughing at his jokes, he had bounced back. When he told his 
host that no one back in Laugharne would believe him when 
eventually he would tell of the visit, Chaplin delighted him 
again by composing a cable and sending it off directly to 

In San Francisco he was much taken with a college girl 
who, she said, would on her twenty-first birthday come into 
several millions of dollars. Since she was only eighteen, they 
would have to be patient for three years but, if he would 
marry her, she said, they could then live anywhere in the 
world and in any fashion that might appeal to him. Her only 
concern was for Dylan's patience. Could he really wait three 
long years for her? In his telling of the incident, I sensed that 
he was amused, but also that he could not make up his mind 

[ 53 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

about just how serious a proposition had been made to him. 
For the girl herself he felt great respect; she was, he said, 
beautiful, intelligent, used to life among horses and dogs, and 
wonderfully entertaining as she drove him about the slopes of 
sunny California in a yellow convertible. 

Throughout the tour he had somehow managed to keep all 
of his many reading engagements. Against evidence of so 
many other failures, this gave me a conviction that behind 
the irresponsible fa9ade of Dylan Thomas there lay a core of 
responsibility few people would ever see. But while the en- 
gagements were all met, troubles attending them were end- 
less, and many fidgety sponsors wished they had never heard 
of this particular Welsh poet. I had become quite inured to 
such telegrams as the following: CONTACT WITH THOMAS RE- 

distressed telegrams came to me almost daily, some of them 
blaming me for having foisted Dylan upon them, a few of 
them making careful distinctions between a great poet and an 
impossible man. Dylan did not go into detail, although I felt 
certain he could have if only he were rid of the onus of 
guilt, but I gathered that in San Francisco and Los Angeles 
there were a number of critical mishaps. Usually these were 
his fault, and he knew it; at other times he was justifiably an- 
noyed and uncooperative in the face of overzealous atten- 
tions and day-long schedules of appearances that would have 
taxed the Queen of England. 

He was about to set off again now, first to Hobart College 
in upstate New York, then by plane to Florida, to read at 

[ 54 ] 

*95 0; February June 

the University in Gainesville. While we were discussing 
finances and details of the next engagements, Loren Maclver 
and Lloyd Frankenberg came by to take him to a Marx 
Brothers movie. I said good-by, and promised to meet his 
plane in Boston a week later. 

In Florida he made an affectionate friend of Marjorie Kin- 
nan Rawlings, who offered him the use of her country house 
at Cross Creek for the following winter. It was a serious offer 
and Dylan accepted it gratefully. But while he later referred 
to the possibility on a number of occasions, and thought that 
he would like to spend the winter months there with Caitlin 
and the children, nothing came of it. 

On the following Sunday morning, I awaited his plane at 
the Boston airport. Richard Eberhart, the poet, at whose 
house Dylan was to stay, had invited fifteen or twenty people 
to a day-long garden party to which he was to be escorted 
immediately. But one plane after another landed, and Dylan 
was not on any of them. I went back to the Eberharts', waited 
hopefully for a wire or a phone call, but there was no news 
and the party, like so many others for Dylan, had to carry on 
and conclude without its guest of honor. 

Next morning came a telegram from Dylan saying he would 
arrive in the early afternoon. It was a cloudy day and his 
plane had to circle the airport for almost an hour before it 
was given clearance to land in the heavy weather. We had 
barely enough time to drive to Wellesley College for his late 
afternoon reading. There he gave a good performance, but 
was carefully kept from inflammatory contact with the de- 
lectable students in blue jeans. Vivid accounts of his behavior 
at Mt. Holyoke had come through to Wellesley directly. The 
reading had hardly been concluded before he was hustled off 

[ 55 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

the campus forever. A few members of the English depart- 
ment took us away to a faculty house for drinks and later 
drove us to a steak place before we returned to Cambridge 
and the Eberharts'. 

On the drive back he was unusually sober and disposed to 
talk. American academic people were still a great puzzle to 
him, he said; in his months of travel he had met thousands of 
them and they were all so much alike as they milled about in 
cloistered classrooms and banal, well-lighted houses furnished 
with television sets, electric mixers and twin beds. As for 
women professors, he found them either sweet, dry and sad 
or loud, overgrown and forbidding. He could not understand 
what poetry meant to them, most of all the sort of poetry he 
wrote, since he could see no evidence that they were able to 
face the living experience from which it sprang or, for that 
matter, any vital experience at all. There was no unkindness 
in these sentiments of Dylan's, I felt, but a genuine and per- 
sistent bewilderment as if he were trying to find an explana- 
tion for his success in relation to the people who had been 
responsible for it. He had visited academic couples in over- 
heated houses on innumerable Faculty Rows, and the sterility 
of such marriages appalled him. He said that he was certain 
that a great number of the husbands were sexually abnormal 
some of the wives had told him so, and, oddly enough, 
some of the husbands. In any case, they were frightened or 
ambiguous men given marital haven by women stronger than 
themselves. When I asked him what the enormous show of 
interest in him and his work had meant to him, he said, sim- 
ply, that it was all wonderful, wonderful; that it not only 
made him feel good but that, in spite of unfriendly foreign 
critics and widespread anti- American bias he had encountered 

[ 56 i 

*95 0; February June 

in Britain and Europe, it was a sign of this country's really 
impressive interest in literature. But much as he liked atten- 
tion, he was always aware of that romantic disposition which 
led so many people to underestimate the sheer pleasant or- 
dinariness of the lives and characters of dead poets and to 
overestimate that of living poets; especially of a poet like 
himself who, pushed into the limelight ready or not, could 
say no phrase or make no gesture which was not regarded as 
part of an endless public performance. And he knew that, 
after having been introduced to him perhaps on some oc- 
casion when he was barely able to keep his balance on a bar 
stool, or perhaps when, sick and sullen, he glowered through 
the depths of a drunken party many people found it difficult 
to connect him with the poems he wrote. But, as he said, 
they would have felt the same sort of consternation, the same 
disbelief "How could such a man have written such mar- 
velous devotional poems? I saw him fall downstairs in his 
suspenders" had they met some of the famous dead. 

He went on to say that, against all the dull, inaccessible or 
blustering people he had met, it would be only fair to point, 
for balance, to the many brilliant, charming and commanding 
individuals who existed, like uncharted islands, in the most 
unexpected places everywhere. While he was weary to death 
of parties where bright, well-dressed young people crowded 
around him to ask not What do you think? but Whom do you 
know?, these were the expected burdens of the literary man. 
His happier and far more frequent memories concerned the 
"lovely" people individuals who had not been dehumanized 
by academicism or depersonalized by Bohemianism. These 
were his friends a word Dylan never used without discrimi- 
nation and as he named them I could sense that they had 

[ 57 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

succeeded in giving him more confidence in himself than the 
great chorus of public praise and public applause could ever 
give him. While some of them were college presidents, men of 
letters, business tycoons, and some were truck drivers, im- 
poverished graduate students or barflies, they had each shown 
themselves capable of accepting Dylan's first condition for 
friendship: a bedrock conviction, beyond every personal or 
social judgment of character, behavior or position, that no one 
was one iota better than anyone else. 

When I called at the Eberharts' for him early the next 
afternoon I found him still in bed. He had awakened early, 
called for beer in lieu of breakfast, and then had gone back 
to sleep. But soon after I had arrived he was combed, bow- 
tied and ready for an afternoon we had planned together in 
downtown Boston. Convinced that architecture, monuments 
and swan boats would only bore him, I took him into Scollay 
Square. We had a few beers in the midday blackness of several 
honky-tonk places, then took in a matinee performance of 
burlesque at the Old Howard. A long-time devotee of London 
music halls, Dylan chuckled with enthusiasm about every- 
thing the long-limbed Petty girls whose bumps and grinds 
ended finally in statuesque nudity, and the flip of a G string, 
the sleazy leering comedians who belted one another with 
inflated bladders, the dead-on-its-feet chorus line slouching 
through zombie-like routines while a desperately smiling ju- 
venile in a double-breasted suit sang selections from Rio Rita. 
Whenever he came to Boston afterwards, we always went 
back to the Old Howard. 

The Eberharts had asked in a large number of people for 
drinks and a buffet supper before Dylan's reading that night 
at Brandeis University in nearby Waltham. We sat on the 

[ 58 ] 

*95 0; February June 

floor with plates in our laps and beer steins beside us. At 
some point, Dylan took out a large silver watch he carried 
hanging on a safety-pin just inside the waist of his trousers. 
It was an elegant old Victorian timepiece his father had 
given him and everyone wanted to examine it. While it was 
being passed about, it suddenly slipped from someone's grasp, 
made a little loop across the room, and gurgled down to the 
bottom of a stein of beer. Fished out still ticking, it shortly 
afterwards stopped. Someone offered to have it fixed in New 
York. When Dylan sailed for home, it was still in a repair 
shop and may even now be waiting to be claimed. 

I did not accompany the group that drove out with him to 
Brandeis and thereby missed, with little regret, another post- 
reading party, and a later one back at the Eberharts'. Dylan 
stayed up most of the night and took a plane the next morn- 
ing for Ann Arbor. 

Readings at the University of Michigan, Wayne University 
and Indiana University would keep him away from New York 
until the following week end. In Detroit he was looked after 
by Patrick Boland, who enlisted his whole family, including 
his father who once pitched for the Detroit Tigers, in helping 
to get Dylan housed, his clothes mended and his appointments 
kept. Patrick later wrote of this visit in terms that allow of 
no paraphrase. Shortly after Dylan's plane from Boston had 
landed at Willow Run, they stopped at a bar in Ypsilanti en 
route to Ann Arbor. 

"When we had got inside and got our beers [wrote Patrick] 
Dylan found that he was quite warm and so removed his 
sweater. The struggle left his hair (which was really very fine 
and soft though curly) high like a wiry headdress electri- 

[ 59 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Bed perhaps by friction. He looked not so much like a maestro 
or a bird as like Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein 
and showed a similar toothy grin. He asked me to lend him 
my comb which was not (I warned him) a clean one; and 
this he dipped deftly into his beer and therewith unravelled 
and settled his knotty problem ouch the fast hard way 
and politely returned . . . That book (a sort of symposium) 
which had recently been given T. S. Eliot upon the occasion 
of his sixtieth birthday was mentioned. Had I wondered why 
he was not amongst the contributors? Well: he had offered 
the editors a poem but could I imagine? they had rejected 
itl It was only a couplet, but a quite appropriate one." It was: 

He who once gave us the silver plate 
Now passes the collection. 

After his reading at the University of Michigan, he was 
driven to Detroit, for his engagement the following day at 
Wayne University. 

"When we had gone perhaps ten miles [wrote Patrick] I 
said that I smelled smoke. Then the others sniffed and we all 
smelled smoke and wondered if the engine was afire. No: it 
was Dylan I discovered. Something other than his new money 
was burning a hole in his pocket. We all jumped and I started 
beating him (beating a great poet: it seemed terrible) with 
the only thing I had except my bare hand my handkerchief. 
This was not as futile as it sounds: it extinguished him al- 
though it caught fire itself and I threw it wildly out the win- 
dow. There was oil and gasoline all over the ground (we had 
pulled into a gas station) but we did not explode. Dylan 
closed his eyes again and we continued our journey. One of 

*95 : February June 

the party recalled that as he had got into the car he had put a 
cigarette butt into his pocket." 

In a letter to Patrick which I had asked Dylan to deliver, I 
said I hoped that they might find time to buy him another of 
the cord suits which he found most comfortable in the spring 
climate. Patrick accepted this commission and escorted Dylan 
to an enormous department store. 

"I shall never forget the sight of him as the clockfaced 
tailor and clerk cried Shabby and Shorten around him. Upon 
his little pedestal, pliant and plump as putty, he looked al- 
most pathetic. He had fumbled and bumbled around inside 
one of those little dressing booths a long while but he had 
finally stumbled (or flipflopped) forth and there they had 
him. I remembered that when he had dressed he had omitted 
his underwear and now when they asked him to let his arms 
and his over-large over-long pants hang free I pretended that 
some other sight compelled me to walk away. I walked only a 
few feet away and gazed into a less apprehensible span of 
space, but soon I heard him call me: 'Patrick. Where are you?* 
The scene shames me differently now especially when I re- 
member that he said gently but somewhat fretfully when I 
reappeared: 1 thought you had deserted me/ Whether his at- 
tendants dropped their stitches and /or he dropped his 
breeches I shall never know." 

After his evening reading at Wayne University, they were 
invited to a party at the Park Shelton Hotel, where New 
York editors were showing off a ballad singer whose book was 
about to be published. 

"Upstairs there was a great press of people sitting in chairs 
and on the floor of the one room around the 'star* of the eve- 
ning (theirs, not mine). Dylan was probably glad, but I was 

[ 61 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

somewhat indignant, that he did not share the spotlight or 
steal it. However it was not his party and the men who 
gave it were quite affable and affluent: two ardent spirits dis- 
pensing ardent spirits, shot after shot, like rapidfire hawkers. 
The guest of honor sang ballad after ballad very very loudly, 
one foot bobbing up and down; and sometimes everybody 
sang, their feet bobbing up and down and their hands clap- 
ping; so that the joint really jumped. I have never properly 
appreciated community songs much less, community sings 

but I became impatient only when Dylan had his polite 
requests politely ignored once or twice. Perhaps he asked too 
softly: 'Do you know She went to the city to be on a com- 
mittee?* But once he sang alone (since no one else knew the 
song) 'Miss Twye' (that quatrain by Gavin Ewart) without 
accompaniment but not without good effect. Also he sang 
'Molly Malone' so sweetly that everybody else seemed to hush 

except the guest of honor (who had the louder voice, but 
not the better)." 

From Detroit, Dylan was to fly to Indianapolis where he 
would be met and driven to his next engagement at Indiana 
University, in Bloomington. When he and Patrick got to the 
Willow Run air terminal early in the morning, wrote Patrick: 
"Just outside I stopped him: a prominent sign read No Docs 
ALLOWED. He understood and smiled. Then I read the smaller 
print: Except Seeing Eye Dogs; and I said, 1 guess that lets 
you through/ 

"We went through and we checked his baggage 'through* 

and he browsed around the newsstand and he bought some 
magazines and candy and he said: 'The only reason I am go- 
ing is that I want to meet John Crowe Ransom. If I thought 
I would not meet him I certainly would not go/ I said that 

*95 O; February June 

he would have to go: he had already promised. He said: 
'Well surely I will see you again soon' and I said that I 
doubted very much that I would ever travel as far as Wales, 
though there was now far more reason than ever to wish that 
I could. But he meant: within a month, before he went home. 
I explained that I had spent all but the last of my money; and 
he argued as he searched his pockets again. 'Here. But I have 
money/ (I often think that he held an uncannily sane and 
saintly view of property, and that he was as glad to give as to 
take whatever seemed necessary and just; and that he trusted 
much more than any economic order or orderliness some 
superhuman providence or simple ordinary divine human 
charity or even some blind shuffle or reshuffle of it all to re- 
distribute fairly the wealth of the world: he took no thought 
of the morrow except when necessary, and he doubted that 
anything wholly could ever be lost.) I said that I could not 
take it (it had cost him so much) and he said: 'Well then I 
will send it to you/ ... I need not have told you that I 
thought he was a great man as well as a great poet one of 
the finest I shall ever meet. He practiced and promoted joy 
like a virtue and he showed not only a wide deep general 
human compassion but a very special consideration of per- 
sons he met and liked. ( I doubt that he was ever forgetful of 
matters that mattered: I see now that he often followed cer- 
tain trends of thought over a period of time when I myself 
had abandoned them.)" 

At Indiana University he not only gave a reading but lec- 
tured to students in a motion picture course on his work with 
various British documentary film units. Back in New York, 
he took up bar life in the old Village routine and might be 
found, momentarily alone or eternally surrounded, at almost 

Dylan Thomas in America 

any hour except for those few occasions when acquaintances 
took him away to make other acquaintances, or to be seen 
with him at some literary gathering. While Dylan as a rule 
had but hazy recollections of where he had been and what 
he had done, his impressions of people were always quick and 
definite. Carl Sandburg's brusque manners and salty talk en- 
tertained him enormously; Thornton Wilder, whose work, he 
thought, had been insensitively dismissed by many highbrow 
critics, struck him as one of the most endearing men he had 
ever met; Dwight D. Eisenhower was "nice enough," but I 
gathered that their interview had taken place in a crowded 
room and in a drunken mist, exuding, of course, from Dylan 
and not from the General who would soon be President. 

When I called for him at the Earle a few days after he had 
returned from the Midwest he was in bed, sick and exhausted 
from days of his own brand of dissipation, and reluctant, or 
temporarily unable, to move. His engagement for that eve- 
ning was at Vassar College, where I had once taught in the 
English department for a period of five years. Most anxious 
that Dylan keep this date, I was disturbed to find him so pale 
and low-spirited. After I had sat with him for a while, trying 
to convey some sympathy for the miseries of his hangover 
as he alternately dozed and waked, I went out and brought 
in a bagful of food. He sat up in bed, ate the delicatessen 
buffet I had selected, and drank a vanilla milk-shake. By four 
o'clock or so he had brightened but, feeling as though I were 
bent on injecting life into a corpse, I decided that the wiser 
course would be to let Dylan remain where he was. Yet I 
knew that when evening came on, the corpse would walk 
straight to the nearest bar. Since I was used to his quick false 
recoveries and the sudden collapses that often followed them, 

*95 0; February June 

I had little faith in his being able to make the transition from 
sickbed to lecture platform in a matter of hours. If he could 
possibly keep his Vassar engagement, I very much wanted 
him to. But I could see that his earlier moanings and groan- 
ings were signs of real anguish, and that it would be unkind 
to urge him to heed a responsibility for which, in this case, I 
was perhaps overzealous. When I said I would phone Vassar 
to report that he was too ill to come, I felt certain that he was 
at last going to forgo a scheduled engagement. But I was 
wrong. He said he was quite ready to go, got up, put on his 
blue suit and his polka-dot tie. We got into my car, headed 
for the Parkway, and were punctually in Poughkeepsie about 
seven. There we checked in with friends of mine in their 
house on Faculty Row. 

No sign of his day-long indisposition showed as he read to 
a large audience that evening or when he stayed up, after 
I had gone to bed, to talk and drink with our hosts until after 
three. But as we drove back to New York through heavy rains 
the next morning, his head sank onto his chest and he slept 
nearly all the way. By midafternoon he was off by train to 
Princeton for another reading and, as it turned out, a night- 
long bull session with a congenial crowd of undergraduates. 

I found him at the San Remo the next afternoon. We had a 
drink or two and, in our unconventional way, reviewed finan- 
cial matters and discussed plans for his remaining appear- 
ances. The reading dates were easily accounted for I simply 
put details in Dylan's now dog-eared and beer-soaked diary, 
gave him plane or train tickets, or noted where he could buy 
them and how much they would cost. But to try to enlist 
Dylan's interest in details of his financial situation was to at- 
tempt the impossible. I had kept a record of every penny he 

Dylan Thomas in America 

had earned from the time he had arrived; while I had no 
strict record of what he had spent, or given away, or lost, I 
knew of course how much I had turned over to him from 
his earnings, and the exact costs of transportation fees I had 
provided. Engagements I made for him brought him fees 
ranging between one hundred fifty dollars and five hundred 
dollars. But we had also made a professionally unorthodox 
agreement whereby he was free to accept engagements he 
might be offered without my representation. While I was 
unhappy to learn not for my sake, but for his that he 
would sometimes accept offers to read for no more than fifty 
dollars, I made little point of this except to warn him that 
widespread knowledge of such small fees would seriously 
hamper my efforts to get him large ones. As agent for Dylan's 
first tour, I retained 10 per cent of his earnings. Actually, this 
amounted only to a token payment. While it had been agreed 
that I would be recompensed for time spent in arranging 
dates and in supervising his travels, out of this remuneration 
was to come telephone and telegraph costs incidental to such 
arrangements. Very early in the course of my dealings I came 
to understand why professional lecture agents feel it neces- 
sary to retain 33 to 50 per cent of the earnings of their 

While Dylan had already earned thousands of dollars in the 
United States, his bank account was dwindling at an alarming 
rate. In spite of my determination to keep free of such con- 
cern, his relentless need for money had led me to becoming 
miserly about his funds and painfully reluctant to meet his 
requests for new amounts. I could not understand why he 
carelessly spent fifty and sixty dollars every day, or why, with 
Caitlin continually requesting money for household accounts, 

[ 66 ] 

*95 0: February June 

he paid no heed to my warnings that unless he cut down on 
his spending he would return to Wales empty-handed. He did 
send modest amounts to his wife now and then, but when I 
suggested that we deposit in his local bank in Carmarthen 
for safekeeping all the money except what he would need 
for basic expenses, he balked. At the onset of his travels it had 
seemed reasonable to estimate that he might be able to go 
home with about three thousand dollars in cash. Soon this 
figure was revised to two thousand dollars. When, day by day, 
it became apparent that even this amount was too much to 
hope for, I despaired of his returning with anything at all. In 
our talk at the San Remo, I showed him his accounts, but he 
looked at these only, it seemed, by way of politely thanking 
me for my trouble, and turned away to order another drink. 
Dylan could not have known it, but his indifference to the 
accounts over which I had worked many hours left me 
dispirited and hopeless. While I had tried to make clear from 
the first that I was no businessman, Dylan had said that he 
wouldn't want a businessman to be taking care of his affairs. 
Secretly, I wanted to be a good businessman, and to have him 
recognize beyond good will and friendship the clarity and or- 
der of accounts which, normally, were as unfamiliar to me as 
to him. But as far as Dylan was concerned, I could play at 
being bookkeeper as much as I cared; he was just not in- 
terested. My only moment of satisfaction came later, when 
we went to the income tax office in order to get his sailing 
permit. When questions about his earnings, expenditures and 
living expenses were put to him, I whipped out my shining 
columns of figures and supplied a hundred small and pertinent 
details. Because of these records, especially those involving 
his traveling and living expenses, Dylan's American income 

[ 67 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

tax was far below the amount we had been told it would be; 
I felt, finally, that he had recognized my labors and, perhaps, 
found some excuse for my immoderate concern. 

A few nights later he read a selection from A Portrait of 
the Artist as a Young Dog at the Poetry Center, the first full 
recital of prose he had given. An unusually intense and un- 
compromisingly sophomoric group of "ardents" took him out 
to a bar afterwards; against my will, but to please Dylan, I 
went along. One of his young admirers kept announcing 
with bravado, and to a rather unlikely band of prospective 
buyers, that he was ready to sell his body to the first man or 
woman who would offer him ten thousand dollars. When I 
caught the late train for Westport, I could see that Dylan had 
an audience, juvenile though it might be, that would stay by 
him to the end of the night. 

Early next morning I was awakened by a phone call from 
New York. A baby-voiced woman said that she was Anita 
Loos, that she had heard the reading at the Poetry Center the 
night before, and that she wondered if Dylan might be in- 
terested in taking the leading role in a new comedy by Carson 
Kanin that was shortly scheduled for Broadway. I said I would 
speak to Dylan about the notion and have him report to her 
his reactions. In a letter to his parents written about this 
time, the only one he wrote during the length of his visit and 
which for some reason he never posted, he makes simple ex- 
pressions of feeling and tells simple bits of information, 
among them the possibility of his becoming an actor. This 
letter turned up long after Dylan's death among papers he 
had left with me, and was forwarded to his mother, with 
whose permission it is quoted here. 

[ 68 ] 

*95 0: February June 


NEW YORK 11, N.Y. 

May 22, 1950 

How are you both? How, especially, is Dad? I think 
a great deal of you both, and very often, though I know 
you would hardly think so from my not-writing for so 
very long. But indeed, you are constantly in my mind; I 
worry very much about Dad's health, or lack of it; and, 
though I hear about you quite often from Caitlin, I still 
do not really get a clear picture of how you are. Is Dad 
in bed all the time? Oh, I do hope not. And he doesn't 
still have to have injections, does he? And how is Mother 
walking now? 

I am sailing for home on June the first, on the Queen 
Elizabeth. It will take four and a half days. So, some- 
where in the first week of June, I shall be seeing you. 
And I am looking forward to it terribly. 

At last my tour is at an end. I have visited over forty uni- 
versities, schools and colleges, from Vancouver, in British 
Columbia, to Southern Florida. I have travelled right 
through the Middle West, the North West, and on to the 
Western Coast of California. After a reading in Indianap- 
olis, a man came up to me and said, in a strong Swansea 
accent, "How's D. J. these days? He used to teach me 
English before the last war. I've been an American citizen 
now for 25 years." And he sounded as if he'd just stepped 
out from Morristown. I didn't get his name, because just 
then I was captured by some one else. I've met Welsh 
people after every public reading I've given, several of 
them from Swansea, Carmarthen, and Pembrokeshire, 
and all of whom knew Laugharne or, at least, Pendine. 
And was, in nearly every case, offered the hospitality 
of their homes: which I never had time to accept. It has 

Dylan Thomas in America 

been the time element in this tour that has been most 
tiring; and the reason, too, I have hardly written any 
letters at all. I have almost never had a moment to myself, 
except in bed and then I was too exhausted to do any- 
thing. And the varying kinds of climates and tempera- 
tures have lessened my energy, too. In Chicago, it was 
bitterly snowing; a few days later, in Florida, the tem- 
perature was ninety. And New York itself never has the 
same sort of weather 2 days running. So one of my 
greatest troubles has been to know what to wear; my 
second greatest trouble, as I flashed round the continent, 
was that of laundry and cleaners. Sometimes I have to 
buy a new shirt in each new town. 

I am writing this in bed, at about seven in the morn- 
ing, in my hotel bedroom, which is right in Washington 
Square, a beautiful Square, which is right in the middle 
of Greenwich Village, the artists' quarter of New York. 
Today I have lunch with my American literary agent, 
and supper with Anita Loos, who wrote a best-seller 
years ago called "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." She is in- 
terested in a play in which I might appear, as an actor, 
sometime, though of course it is all very much up in 
the air. 

I am longing to come home. How is Caitlin really? 
And Aeron and Colm? 

Excuse this very bad pencil, and scrappy letter. 

Love to you both, 

While Dylan did for a time seem genuinely intrigued by the 
possibilities of a professional acting debut, nothing came of 
his talks with Anita Loos. When Kanin's play, The Rat Race, 
was produced in the following autumn, its run was limited to 
a matter of days. Meanwhile, I was touched to learn from 
Dylan that his only regret was not for himself but for me 

[ 70 ] 

*95 0: February June 

if he really did become a high-salaried Broadway actor, he 
said, he would insist that I be his manager so that, with no 
work to do, I would at last make money for all my trouble in 
taking care of him. 

One evening Dylan came to a poetry writing class I con- 
ducted as one of the activities of the Poetry Center. To a 
group of twenty adult students he explained aspects of his 
more difficult poems with great care, answered all questions 
even the foolish ones with respectful consideration, was 
soberly self-critical, precisely discriminating, and thoroughly 
beguiling as a personality. Yet this role as guide through his 
collected works was one he despised, when he played it, and 
when others played it. While such an attitude may seem in- 
congruous in relation to many of his activities and may seem 
to undermine the conviction with which he often spoke, he 
had an obsessive antipathy to poetry as a public forum- 
activity. To Dylan poetry was something that happened, that 
had been happening for a long time and would go on hap- 
pening; it was not something to meet upon, to debate, or to 
fix into hierarchical tables. It is hard to say just what the basis 
of this antipathy was. For one thing, he had a very shaky 
sense of himself as a critic. He knew just enough about the 
perspectives and the jargon of the new critics of poetry to 
use them in discussion and, as a rule, tended to disparage the 
more rigid applications of the approach they represent. But 
while he distrusted official or sectarian approaches to poetry, 
his own approach was often whimsical, hasty and impression- 
istic. More than once I had heard him say that he preferred 
to judge poetry by the character of the poet. While this was 
most likely a facetious evasion, it was evident that Dylan was 
never quite sure of just what poetry he could say he liked. 

[ 71 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

His judgments shifted rapidly and were often influenced by 
opinions quite at variance with his own. 

I can remember one occasion when I found him carrying a 
volume of poetry by a young American who was at the time 
receiving much flattering attention. In my opinion the value 
of this poet's work was negligible, and the breadth of acclaim 
attending it absurd. But I wanted Dylan's reaction and, with- 
out betraying my own low regard, asked him what*he thought 
of the book. He answered that he thought it was fine, that it 
was just about the best new book of American poetry he had 
come across in fifteen years. I was so taken aback that I 
could say nothing. Five or six weeks later, however, having 
absorbed Dylan's reaction, having reread the poet's work, and 
having been unable to find a line of poetry in his whole 
wretched volume, I brought up the subject again. "Look," I 
said, "you'll remember my asking you about X's poetry. When 
you said how much you liked it, I went back and read it page 
by page. I think it's lousy and I want you to tell me why it 
isn't." Dylan turned to me with a slow, sheepish part of a 
smile, then concentrated on his drink. "Well?" I said. "Don't," 
he said; "no one likes to be told just how wrong they were. 
I've read it again myself. It's just no good." 

There were opportunities for me to see Dylan on many 
days during the latter part of his visit but, in spite of his ex- 
pectation that I would naturally choose to be with him when 
I could, I found myself avoiding them. I had come to despise 
the press and onerous involvement of lectures and sponsors 
and plans for dinners with committees, and could not save 
myself from becoming irritable when, attempting to gain his 
attention or his commitment on some request made to me, I 
had always to approach him, almost to importune him, in the 

[ 72 i 

*95 0; February June 

center of some new group of free souls, barflies, poetry lovers 
or people who had not yet given up last night's party. To his 
companions, who sometimes looked at me as though I were 
trying to sell him an insurance policy, I must have seemed 
like a death's-head at the banquet table, soberly standing by 
for an opportunity to break in upon the general merriment 
and force Dylan to tell me what to do about half a dozen 
matters I c6uld not execute without his consideration. I en- 
joyed his company as much as ever, but half -drunken palaver 
was too often the only substance of these random meetings. 
The hangers-on who seemed to make up his interminable ret- 
inue depressed me, and I refused to be counted among them. 
If I could not see him at leisure I would not see him at all. I 
had accepted the alcoholic tenor of his life, but it still ap- 
palled and saddened me; his protracted states of nausea and 
spells of retching made me want to risk seeming presumptu- 
ous in order to direct him firmly toward medical help, and all 
the limitation on his freedom that would probably entail; yet 
I knew that Dylan's sickness was only partially physical, that 
he had become resigned to it as the normal burden of his days 
and nights, and that I could in any case effectively influence 
only that part of his career he had put into my hands. I had 
become ill-tempered, insomnious for the first time in my life, 
neglectful of my friends some of whom, barely acquainted 
with Dylan, looked upon him as a monster and unable to 
concentrate upon my work. When all of these factors led to a 
grating distress that became daily more acute and seemed 
continually farther away from any chance of relief, I resolved 
to stay out of Dylan's orbit except when professional matters 
forced us together. If I could do nothing to stop his largely 
self-inflicted agonies, at least I did not have to suffer the help- 

[ 73 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

less anxiety of watching them. Curbing a hundred impulses to 
phone him, to drop by at his hotel or to join him casually at 
one or another of his Village haunts, I succeeded in living by 
this resolution for about ten days. 

When next I saw him it was by chance, at a garrulous 
party in the steaming hot studio of an abstractionist painter 
on Eighth Street. Dylan and Delmore Schwartz, the poet, 
were in the center of a crowd within a crowd when I spotted 
him. Approaching from behind, I touched him on the arm. 
When he turned and saw me his face stiffened as if he had 
been touched on the quick. Assuming a pouting, wounded 
look his head on his chest, his dark eyes looking up he 
rushed to the nearest window as though he were going to 
throw himself out. I asked him what the matter was. "You've 
deserted me," he said, almost fiercely. Ignoring the truth, I 
tried to explain how busy I had been. He was neither con- 
vinced nor placated by my earnest evasions, but gradually 
we made a kind of peace and went back to the party. Yet, 
when I said good night, his expression was rueful, single and 
piercing, and I could see that he had not forgiven me. His 
wounded eyes followed me for days. They may have been 
the skilled eyes of an actor, or the eyes of a man genuinely 
hurt. In either case, it did not matter now. Unable to dismiss 
their pointed accusation, or the realization that he may have 
been more deeply hurt by my neglect than I could imagine, 
I felt my dilemma had become unanswerable. 

In just one more week Dylan would be gone. I resolved to 
ignore the frustrations spoiling the pleasure we might have 
taken in one another's company. They were my frustrations, 
after all, and by allowing them to keep us apart I would only 
be denying myself a friend I cherished. I decided to see him 

[ 74 1 

1 95 O: February June 

whenever I could, and to put aside the feeling that my ap- 
pearances were necessarily intrusions upon the little peace of 
mind that barroom existence could grant him. Since an in- 
ability to express our emotions in spoken words was a char- 
acteristic we shared, we had by this time found a way to 
make a sort of left-handed recognition of the affection that 
kept us together. When we met, even after but a day's sepa- 
ration, our greetings would take the form of a joke capable of 
endless variations. I would say something to the effect that 
it was good to see him but that suddenly I was nauseated and 
dizzy, and he would reply that it was lovely to see me but 
that he was probably going to be sick on the spot. In spite of 
these hazards we were frequently together in the last days 
of his visit, and I came to know a part of his life of which I 
had had no previous knowledge. 

The sexual life of Dylan Thomas was already as much a 
source of legend as was his fabulous capacity for alcohol. Re- 
ports from Boston to Los Angeles suggested he lived by lech- 
ery, fondling girl sophomores and the wives of deans with an 
obsessive disregard for anything but his own insatiable de- 
sires. The tumescence of his poems fed such rumors and sup- 
ported them; uncovering sexual imagery in the poems of 
Dylan Thomas had already become a national undergraduate 
pastime. The precise, obscene references and the four-letter 
ejaculations of his drunken talk, his often lascivious retorts to 
civil questions, and his lewd attentions to details of the female 
anatomy were repeated and embellished. In California, it was 
reported, he had suffered through an intolerably long and dull 
dinner party with a group of male professors. When cigars 
were passed around, Dylan, refusing to sink into the general 
stupor, addressed the company: "Gentlemen, I wish we were 

[ 75 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

all hermaphrodites!" "Why," said one of the professors 
politely, "why do you wish that, Mr. Thomas?" "Because, gen- 
tlemen, then we could all ourselves." Similar stories cropped 
up everywhere, along with rumors of fantastic sexual prowess 
and a sexual preoccupation indicating satyriasis. While the 
extravagance of Dylan's social behavior made these true in 
tenor, in their details they were almost always spurious, and 
often so debasing that they seemed to have come not out of 
amusement but out of malice. Contributing to the unhappier 
part of the legend of Dylan, they continued until his death 
and, morbidly enough, were to be renewed by that event. 

Up to this time, all that I knew of Dylan's sexual interests 
were his continual, and by now rather tiresome, references to 
"naked girls in wet mackintoshes" and his often-expressed de- 
sire for "a little woman, one just my size." At parties his in- 
evitable approaches to pretty women showed not so much 
sexual aggression as a kind of puppy-dog appreciation for the 
physical attractions he might snuggle up to. Since his ad- 
dresses to women were made publicly, they were almost al- 
ways answered by public rebuff. This little vaudeville show 
of Dylan's sometimes occurred in situations where it could 
only register as being in the most heinous bad taste. But on 
other occasions, in more emancipated company, neither the 
women so addressed nor the men escorting them took him seri- 
ously. Yet, when he had suffered a rebuff, he would seldom 
dismiss it. The little boy doing penance in a corner, he would 
end up sulking about his ugliness and mumbling about the 
cruelty of women as he drank on into the night. More than 
one of the women who had humored him through such epi- 
sodes told me that there was nothing clearer than the fact 
that he did not really want them to respond, at least not to 

[ 76 ] 

; February June 

the point of commitment. His act was a mere divertissement, 
a matter of words, four-lettered though they might be, and 
of easily tamed ferocity. 

In spite of actions that belie the thought, and may even 
make it seem ridiculous, I came early to understand that 
Dylan loved his wife with a singleness of passion and a seren- 
ity of heart which his other passions could never confuse. 
The women who loved him instinctively knew this, and pro- 
tected him from having to explain, even to himself, the 
causes of his infidelity. To love Dylan was to have recognized 
in the first place the weaknesses that made him need the love 
which the same weaknesses would inevitably destroy or shut 
out. The more understanding among the women he allowed 
to love him, or whom he loved, knew that they had to pro- 
tect him from their demands, to preserve for him his belief 
that he was never really involved, and consequently never 
really responsible. 

Since his temperament was predominantly passive, Dylan 
waited for women to come to him, or, under the neurotic 
solicitude of one particularly busy acquaintance, to be pro- 
cured for him. While there may have been hasty amorous 
encounters in the course of his tour or during the intervals in 
New York, I knew nothing about them. But in the last few 
days of his visit, he told me of affairs with three women. The 
first was a poet, a small somewhat boyish girl, shy and charm- 
ing, a writer of high talent well-known in avant garde circles. 
But this affair was short-lived, and Dylan seemed regretful 
when he spoke of it. Since he referred to her always with 
affection and with a kind of distant nostalgia as though 
some unforeseen act of God had taken her from him I had 
the feeling that he had neglected her not by intention but by 

[ 77 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

default which, in his case, was allowing other women to pre- 
empt all of his time. Dylan could be led anywhere; his sins 
were nearly always sins of omission, his failures in human 
relations a series of defaultings he would eventually recognize 
yet could never halt. In any case, the girl poet's place was 
now wholly taken over by Doris and by Sarah. Doris was 
frankly a passing fancy, but with Sarah he fell in love, with 
consequences that were to disturb him profoundly for more 
than a year. 

Doris had a light, talkative, birdlike manner that made her 
seem considerably sillier than she was. A haute couture fash- 
ion model who was frequently engaged by exclusive shops, she 
was married to a lawyer, had an eight-year-old son, a foreign 
car, and more money and time than she could usefully spend. 
While she was an avid reader of modern poetry and was well- 
versed in literary movements and personalities, one had the 
feeling that her true interests were statistical and documen- 
tary. She could name the poetic reputations of the '205 and 
*3os just as quickly as an old movie-fan might pinpoint the 
careers of Richard Barthelmess and John Gilbert. In her new 
hierarchy, one felt, Dylan was as significant as Marlon 
Brando. Her husband knew all about their relations, she told 
me, and was looking forward to meeting Dylan who, I ob- 
served, was not enchanted in this prospect. Dylan said little 
about the affair, but through many casual confidences Doris 
drew me into their relationship and I began to find myself 
absurdly mixed up with her and Dylan and the eight-year-old 
in a series of clandestine afternoons, missed appointments, 
telephoned excuses, debates about Dylan's true temperament, 
and proprietary discussions about his poetry. As a critic of his 
poetry, Doris was most worried that Dylan was going to be- 

[ 78 ] 

*95 0; February June 

gin to repeat himself; she had seen ominous signs of this in 
his latest works, she said, and she was going to take him to 
task for them. But her concern for Dylan himself was deeper. 
'That kid is going to kill himself," she would say. "You can't 
live the way he does and not pay for it. What's eatin' him?" 
Like every woman he knew, Doris became maternally solici- 
tous of Dylan's drinking and eating habits, scolded him, 
shooed him about as if he were a wayward child, and sang 
to him when he felt depressed. Meanwhile, she fed him pills 
and capsules for everything that did or might ail him, sent 
his dirty clothes to the cleaners and bought him new clothes, 
expensive liquors, a portable radio for his bedside, and came 
to his hotel whenever he lifted the phone. 

Sarah was vastly different in manner, substance and back- 
ground. She held an important job in publishing to which she 
brought extraordinary intelligence, an executive sense of re- 
sponsibility, and that air of professional sophistication gov- 
erned by the Madison Avenue fashion journals. She had been 
highly educated, had taught for several years at one of the 
leading woman's colleges, and was knowledgeably devoted to 
Dylan's work from the time of its earliest publication. These 
qualities, combined with her dark handsomeness and social 
poise, made her precisely the sort of woman from whom one 
would expect Dylan only to flee. How deeply he felt about 
her I did not then know, since neither he nor Sarah confided 
in me except to let me know that they were lovers. 

Having learned of these two simultaneous affairs, I realized 
I knew nothing of Dylan's real needs or of the quality of his 
emotional experience. A normally curious person, I had no 
curiosity at all about these involvements, and simply accepted 
them as facts pertinent to the phenomenon of Dylan 

[ 79 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Thomas. I had, I suppose, come to a total acceptance of him, 
so that what in someone else might have struck me as weak, 
or wrong, or self-indulgent, made no register. But I could not 
help wondering how he managed to keep his two loves 
apart. By circumstances to which I was neither committed nor 
indifferent, I found myself one day literally in the center of a 
dilemma I had previously known only as a matter of con- 

Dylan was to sail for home on the Queen Elizabeth at mid- 
night on May 3ist. Farewell parties that eventually seemed 
to be all one party, dentist appointments, income tax inter- 
views, punctuated by frequent romantic interludes either with 
Sarah or with Doris, occupied the final days of his visit. On 
the afternoon of his sailing day, I did some shopping for him, 
bought my own presents for Caitlin and his children, then 
joined him in his hotel room. He had packed not even a 
toothbrush; the room was strewn with clothes, manuscripts, 
empty beer bottles, candy wrappers, Mickey Spillanes and 
wilted flowers. I volunteered to lay out his frowzy luggage 
and began to pack a mountain of dirty shirts. (Dylan had 
eventually found it easier to buy a shirt every other day or so 
than to send what he had to a laundry. ) As I was attempting 
to be systematic about where to fit in suits and manuscripts 
and books, there came a knock at the door. Doris swooped 
in with a trill of greeting, followed by bellboys loaded with 
packages in tottering piles. There were fifths of Scotch in gift 
cartons and we opened these and sent down for ice. As we 
drank our highballs, Doris took the elegant wrappings off her 
purchases one by one. There were presents for Dylan a 
new tweed jacket, cigars, neckties and presents for his chil- 
dren lollipops tied with ribbons, a space suit, a cowboy out- 

*95 0: February June 

fit complete with pistols, T-shirts, an archery set, a monkey 
that climbed up a string. Getting on with the packing, won- 
dering how I was going to squeeze in this toyland windfall, I 
was entertained by Dylan and by Doris as they sang selections 
from a recent Broadway show, some of which, I noted, Dylan 
knew quite by heart. Doris had brought him some sort of 
perfumed air-purifier which she began to squirt throughout 
the room and all over Dylan's stuffy effects. He was in the 
middle of a solo about a train that went to New York saying 
toot-toot when the telephone rang. Dylan answered. It was 
Sarah, come to say good-by. I looked at Dylan mutely and, 
wildly, he looked back at me. It was all too late; there was 
nothing to be done. I whispered to Dylan that I would wait 
downstairs in the lobby, but he begged me to stay and I went 
on with the packing. I was attempting to appear exclusively 
engrossed in this when Sarah came into the room, took one 
look at Doris, of whom I was sure now she had long been 
aware, and said acidly, "What is that frightful odor?" Doris 
went on airily squirting everything in sight with her noisome 
attar. "I like this odor," she said. "Don't you like it, Dylan?" 

I cannot remember the ensuing conversation, if it can be 
termed conversation, but the atmosphere was strait-jacketed 
with tensions relieved only when three or four more drinks 
were downed. By that time the room had filled up with others 
who had come to say bon voyage, and the war of the rose- 
water that had seemed imminent was never joined. 

We went out to dinner en masse but were rejected from 
the first place we entered because Dylan refused to wear a 
jacket. We traipsed through the Village to an Italian place, 
spoke our orders, and were about to lay into enormous plat- 
ters of antipasto when, bursting into tears, Doris rushed from 

Dylan Thomas in America 

the table and out of the restaurant into the street. As some- 
one rose to follow her and bring her back, Sarah wondered 
aloud what she was doing there, anyway, and everyone tried 
to ignore new scenes of excessive passion by bolting his food. 
Finally, in a caravan of three cars, we converged on Pier 90 
and escorted Dylan up the gangplank of the Queen Elizabeth. 
We crowded his Cabin Class cabin to the walls, tried to allay 
the undisguised alarm of his aged cabinmates by offering 
them tumblers of whisky, and stayed far beyond the visitors' 
limit. Stewards kept trying to herd us back onto the pier, but 
no one would leave. Everyone was secretly scheming to be 
the last to say good-by. When a representative of the Cunard 
Line came to present the Company's compliments to Dylan 
as a distinguished passenger, we felt even more boldly en- 
titled to the privilege of remaining until the very last minute. 
Finally, we said farewell to Dylan, now gone glazed and baby- 
ish with drink and exhaustion, and went Indian file through 
narrow gangways back to the pier. The last visitor off the 
ship was Doris. She had outwitted us all. 

When the abysmal whistle blew and the gangplank was 
hauled up, I stood alone in a dim corner of Pier 90, feeling 
not only parting sadness but a suddenly overwhelming wave 
of desolation. As the ship began to move away, I noticed 
Sarah standing quite by herself not far away from me, quietly 
weeping. When she ran toward me, we embraced in an ab- 
surd and wordless flood of tears as the Queen Elizabeth 
backed into the wash of her propellers and began to slide 
out to sea. 

Dylan Thomas had come to America. The meaning of his 
voyage was incalculable for those of us who had come to 
know him intimately, and for those thousands who had been 

[ 8* ] 

1950; February June 

electrified by his gifts and the sense of genius rampant he had 
recovered for an age disposed to assign genius only to the 
past or to the psychiatric casebook. I had no real notion of 
what America had meant to him. I could not tell with what 
he was returning. But there were, at least, eight hundred 
American dollars carefully secreted in a handbag I had put in 
his luggage as a present for his wife. It was a risky and foolish 
thing to do, but I could think of no other certain way of get- 
ting the money to her. Had Dylan knowledge of it, who 
knows how many hundreds of dollars would have been left 
in the ship's bar? But, of course, that would have been his 
privilege, and I remained troubled. 


1950: June September 

THE ONLY direct news I had of Dylan during the follow- 
ing summer came not from him but from his wife. The first 
of many unhappy letters, it served to introduce me at once 
to the incorrigible realities of Dylan's domestic life. She felt 
that her husband had been "spoiled" in America and expressed 
the opinion that, while he did not say so, he must be finding 
it very difficult to come back "to the cold hard English after 
all the warmth and welcome and presents, unheard of over 
here, and his numerous new friends." But the worst trial, she 
felt, would be to get him to work on projects that would 
bring in money for family necessities especially when all 
that Dylan wanted to do was to work on "his own nonpaying 
poetry slowly and peacefully." Since this problem had be- 
come a permanent one, she wondered whether, in America, 
there might be wider opportunity for "combining, or rather 
segregating, the commercial from the personal." Her letter 
was affectionately cordial, and I was more than a little 
warmed to learn that Dylan had spoken of me in terms that 
made her consider me a close friend of hers as well. Having 
often speculated, in the grimmer moments of our association, 
upon what it must mean to be married to Dylan and depend- 

1950; June September 

ent upon him, I was also impressed by the insight and intelli- 
gence with which she had stated her dilemma. 

I went to Europe late in August, disembarking in Plymouth 
where I found a wire from Dylan saying he would be waiting 
for me when the boat-train pulled into Paddington Station. 
My first sight of him showed me a new man: his clothes were 
new and well-matched, his shoes glinted with a high shine, 
his face was serene and ruddy, and he was smoking a cigar 
not one of the little cigarette-sized ones of which he had be- 
come so fond in America, but a Rotariansize stogie with 
which he imperiously hailed a taxi. As he ordered porters to 
take care of my luggage and escorted me into the cab, he 
might have been a glad-handed representative of the London 
Chamber of Commerce come to greet an American out for a 
good time. We trundled into the dizzying miniature traffic of 
London and drove directly to his club, the Savage, on Carlton 
House Terrace. He had found a room for me "in a great jail 
of a hotel" just off Russell Square, he said, but first we had to 
have a drink. While awaiting my train he had gone to see 
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard and now he was as dry 
as a camel. 

The Savage Club was precisely what one would expect an 
Englishman's club to be shabby, hushed, brushed, polished 
and eternal. My new picture of Dylan as an affluent recep- 
tion committee-of-one was furthered in the firm manner in 
which he piloted me about, introducing me to club members 
in galleries and on the stairs, showing me the history of the 
place in its fading group photographs, enscrolled plaques and 
heroic-sized paintings dim with age. Somewhat overcome by 
my first hours in Europe I had not been there since I was 
nineteen and unused to this reversal of roles between us, I 

Dylan Thomas in America 

had little to say. But Dylan was full of reminiscence about 
people and places in America and, over warmish whiskies and 
soda, we had a happy hour of fragmentary conversation. I 
was most conscious of the fact that we had met so warmly 
without any matter of engagements or appointments to make 
the meeting necessary. He seemed as happy to see me as I 
was to see him, and his heartily expansive manner made the 
occasion buoyant, relieving me of all those troubling, unre- 
solved feelings that had dogged our association in America. 
In the late afternoon, Dylan had an appointment to meet at 
Broadcasting House, and so we parted en route to my hotel. 

Early evening I rejoined him at one of his favorite pubs, 
the flamboyantly Victorian Salisbury, in St. Martin's Lane. He 
was standing at the bar among a number of friends and ac- 
quaintances, none of whose names I remember, all of whom 
pressed drinks upon me and fed me dry little sandwiches 
from a rack. As usual, Dylan could not abide the thought of 
dinner, and I was myself quite willing to settle for another 
pint of bitter and more tidbits from the cold buffet. When our 
companions began to drift off toward their evening appoint- 
ments, Dylan suggested that he and I take in a Marx Brothers 
movie, Duck Soup, then playing in Oxford Street. During the 
movie, Dylan got shushed continually for fussing with 
matches as he lighted one cigarette after another, and then he 
fell asleep and got shushed for snoring. Afterwards, he wanted 
to go on to another of his clubs for a drink. But, too weary to 
stand straight, I said good night and walked to my hotel. 

Early next afternoon I joined Dylan at El Vino in Fleet 
Street, a journalists' rendezvous also frequented by younger 
members of Parliament. He was drinking at a table with three 
friends to whom he introduced me with a proprietary affec- 

[ 86 ] 

*95 O; J une September 

tion that was as unexpected as it was touching. We stayed 
there talking about American novelists, especially about Wil- 
liam Faulkner, for whom Dylan held a deep regard, and Tru- 
man Capote, about whom he expressed an amused curiosity, 
until we were shooed out at the three o'clock closing time, 
when we piled into a taxi and went on to the Mandrake Club. 
This was the place Dylan frequented most, and where people 
in search of him usually looked first. He was treated with no 
special deference in the Mandrake, as far as I could see, but 
with an almost calculated indifference. Still unused to being 
with him when he was not the object of everyone's attention, 
I could not understand why, as he moved among chessplayers, 
newspaper readers and little conversational groups, he was al- 
lowed to pass not only without a greeting but even without 
recognition. I made a point of this when, later in the after- 
noon, I was introduced to Margaret Taylor, a longstanding 
friend and patron of Dylan's. She said I was quite wrong, that 
he was really treated with enormous deference, but that the 
ways in which this happened were perhaps not quickly ap- 
parent to the eyes of an American. Behind the little bar at 
the club was a Nell Gwyn sort of barmaid, who maintained 
toward Dylan a noticeably distant and guarded air of wariness 
and amusement, as if his requests for drinks were really eu- 
phemisms for other requests. His attitude toward her seemed 
somehow gnomish, somehow sheepish. I had the feeling that 
earlier encounters between them had resulted in this un- 
spoken truce. We lingered on at the Mandrake until early 
evening, nibbling at items from the smorgdsbord, moving in 
and out of new groupings of people, none of whom I remem- 
ber clearly except Margaret Taylor, who stayed constantly 
with Dylan and me, and an iron-gray woman with the face of 

Dylan Thomas in America 

a sea-captain who tapped me brusquely on the back. "Do you 
know Henry Miller?" she roared. I said no, but that- 1 had 
once spent a few hours with him at his home in Big Sur. 
"Hah!" she said, and turned away. 

Thinking, surely, more of my appetite than of his, Dylan 
decided we would have dinner at Wheeler's in Little Compton 
Street very smart, he said, very expensive, and crawling 
with literary and theatrical celebrities. We dined there on 
what, to my New England palate, seemed extraordinarily taste- 
less oysters and lobster, gossiped anew about our American 
acquaintances, and saw no celebrities. Then, on Dylan's sug- 
gestion, we went to the London Casino nearby, where "Les 
Compagnons de la Chanson" were the star attraction. Because 
Dylan insisted on paying for the best seats in the house, we 
were too close to the stage for comfort. Before the loud lavish 
revue was half over, he had slumped asleep and was snoring 
in an easy rhythm, just quietly enough to be unnoticed in the 
din of the show. The production was stultifying in every way, 
but this was my first taste of English theater in fifteen years 
and I was prepared to enjoy it for novelty if for nothing else. 
But, with Dylan asleep beside me, I was conscious mainly of 
him, and sentimentally amused by the care he had taken to 
receive me. For some reason, he had got it into his head that 
I should be entertained. He had on this score already done far 
more than he need have, and now, it was apparent, the effort 
was proving to be too great. But he came awake at the inter- 
mission and we went to the foyer to have champagne at the 
bar. While we were sipping it, the theater's resident photog- 
rapher came along and took a flashlight photograph. Dylan 
paid her for the results and copied his address on a card she 
handed to him. Many months later he sent me the photo- 

[ 88 ] 

*95 O; J une September 

graph, which turned out to be a fine portrait of him and a 
caricature of me. Dylan's comment came in a letter accom- 
panying it, the first I received from him after my London 
visit: "How nice, nice, nice! Oh, my conscience, I had feared 
that you left London breathing no, I can't possibly mean 
that had left London saying: 'No more of that coarsened 
booby and his backstairs drizzling town. Foul enough in 
America, feebly lascivious in his pigsty at the Earle, puking 
in Philadelphia, burgling the Biddies, blackmailing physicists' 
mistakes for radio sets and trousers, hounding poor Oscar, but 
there! there in that English sink, intolerably, dribbly, lost. 
And, oh, his socalled friends! toadying slaves of the licensing 
laws, rats on a drinking ship* or didn't we meet any friends? 
I can't remember. I remember I liked, very much, our being 
together, though you were in that Royal (was it?) jail and I 
in my false bonhomous club. I remember meeting you at the 
station, and that was fine. And the London frowsty Casino, 
a memento of which I enclose: who are those perhaps-men, 
one bluebottle-bloated, one villainously simpering, with floral 
and yachting ties, so untrustworthily neat and prosperous 
with their flat champagne?" 

The pubs were closed by the time the show was over. We 
taxied to the Savage Club, but the liquor cabinets there were 
shut against the late hour. We stood disconsolately in the 
lobby while Dylan tried to cajole the aged night porter into 
giving us just one little drink. Kindly but adamant, the porter 
was attempting to ease us gracefully out of the club when the 
hall phone rang. Someone was asking for Dylan. We were 
invited to join a party given by the American Negro actress, 
Hilda Sims, at her house near Regent's Park. Our evening 
was saved. We skimmed over wet streets and were in the 

Dylan Thomas in America 

middle of the party within fifteen minutes. People kept com- 
ing and going, and I remember few of them except George 
Barker, the poet, whom I had known in New York, Betty 
Smart, a Canadian girl who worked on the London Vogue, 
Lennie Hayton and his wife, Lena Home. I chatted mostly 
with George Barker about many mutual acquaintances and 
Dylan spent most of his time with Lena Home whom, I 
found, he had known before. I joined them at one point and 
was not particularly surprised to find Dylan in the same sort 
of party mood that had caused so much comment in America. 
His approach to Lena Home was alternately boyish-bashful 
and straightforward, but I could see that she was comfortably 
aware of his proclivities. She fended him off with great 
charm, without for a moment losing an affectionate and smil- 
ing sense of him. Then we all settled down to listen to an 
old record. We put shillings in a hat, and the first one cor- 
rectly to guess the singer would collect the jackpot. Dismal, 
lovesick and determined, the voice stumped everyone until, 
correctly identifying the record, Lena Home said, "O for 
heavens' sake, it's Tallu!" 

All the next day I wandered about by myself, becoming 
reacquainted with my favorite city in Europe. Dylan had 
wanted me to spend it with him but, even in his company, 
another day of drinking struck me as a waste of time and I 
had made excuses that I hoped would not offend him. Early 
in the evening I went to the Mandrake where he was wait- 
ing for me. He had been alone and on the loose all day and 
was now lumpish and unsteady on his feet. Margaret Taylor 
and another friend were with him, but he wanted to get away 
from the Mandrake. Oddly enough, he had an urge to see a 
movie, Destination Moon, then playing at one of the big 

[ 90 ] 

J 95 O; J une September 

houses in Leicester Square. Margaret and I consented to go 
with him, but only if he would stop for something to eat on 
the way to the theater. The friend left, and Margaret and I 
escorted a very tipsy Dylan to a counter supper of seafood at 
The House of Hamburger before going on to a late showing 
of the movie. The only available seats were high up, where 
the atmosphere was suffocatingly stuffy and smoky, but Dylan 
remained awake through the picture and, by chuckles, sighs 
and squeals of fright and amusement, seemed delighted with 
the boys'-book adventure story of men in space suits who ride 
a rocket ship to the moon. After the movie, as if he had sud- 
denly downed a double-Scotch, his sobriety instantly vanished 
and we had to support him in the midst of a crowd as we 
went down the stairs of the theater. Margaret seemed to want 
to take charge of him, said she would see him to his club, 
and would not allow me to come along. 

The next day was a gray, silent and furtively oppressive 
London Sunday. Friends of Dylan's were holding a sort of 
open house in their basement flat, and I dropped by around 
midafternoon. Everyone was already well-armed against the 
desolation of the day. I stayed for a drink or two, talked with 
the Scottish painters, MacGregor and Calquhoun, and was an- 
noyed by someone who kept insisting drunkenly, and to my 
face, that I was "a nice American;" he had, he said, inscruta- 
bly, met only one other and that was Vera-Ellen, the dancer. 
Dylan was drinking heavily, being sloppy about his person, 
but enjoying himself loudly when I left to keep an appoint- 
ment with some English friends. 

Sarah was now at sea on her way to England from New 
York, having cabled Dylan that she would arrive in London 
on September 4th. He asked me to come to lunch with them 

[ 91 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

as soon as her boat train pulled in. I went to Wheeler's, the 
appointed place, at one o'clock, but neither Dylan nor Sarah 
turned up. As I waited about, I encountered Harry Thornton 
Moore, the American critic whom, I learned, Dylan had also 
asked to lunch at that time. After an hour or so of watching 
the door, Moore and I had lunch together. Later in the after- 
noon I went to have tea with T. S. Eliot in his office in Rus- 
sell Square and, when I returned to my hotel, found a tele- 
phoned note from Dylan asking me to join him and Sarah 
at the Cafe Royal. I hurried to Piccadilly and found them 
in a gilt and plush bar. Dylan seemed very happy to see Sarah 
again, treated her with the same welcoming committee eager- 
ness to please with which he had greeted me, but was obvi- 
ously most interested in being alone with her. I left after one 

Next afternoon we met, all three, at the Salisbury, drank 
gins and lime and strolled through crowded streets toward the 
Embankment. There, on Dylan's suggestion, we took a river 
bus down the Thames to a point beyond Greenwich. It was 
a gray day on the busy river and Sarah and I enjoyed being 
tourists and asking Dylan to identify all the domes and towers 
we saw. There was a little bar on the riverboat; we took our 
drinks out on deck as we chugged among outgoing tramp 
steamers, coal-laden barges and puffing tugboats. We took 
snapshots, some of which resulted in fine characteristic por- 
traits of Dylan. It was a festive little excursion, but in spite of 
outbursts of his high explosive laughter, Dylan was most of 
the time gloomy and troubled. At one point, when Sarah had 
gone to fetch us drinks from the bar, he turned to me: "John, 
what am I going to do?" His face, suddenly sober, showed be- 
wilderment and his eyes were set upon something far away. 

[ 9* ] 

1950: June September 

"About what?" 'Tm in love with Sarah, and I'm in love with 
my wife. I don't know what to do." It was a question no one 
could have answered save himself, and I did not attempt to. 
But this was a new confidence, and my first experience of see- 
ing Dylan wrestling with a problem rather than seeking out 
means to circumvent it. 

We disembarked at Waterloo Bridge and walked through 
Trafalgar Square back up to St. Martin's Lane where in the 
midst of passing traffic we stopped to say good-by. Like the 
illicit lovers of a thousand English novels, they were going 
off to Brighton for a day or two; I was flying to Paris in the 
morning. Dylan and I spoke of meeting in London again 
when I should have returned from travels on the Continent, 
but these plans fell through when I decided to sail from Le 
Havre. I did not see him again until I visited him in Wales 
in the following July. 

[ 93 1 


September, 1950 July, 1951 

I WROTE to Dylan now and then but, unable to evoke an 
answer, was out of direct touch with him for nearly seven 
months. The only news of him I had came from Sarah, who 
was spending most of the winter in Greece. After I had left 
them in London together, she had stayed on for a few days 
and then gone to France, expecting to return to England to 
be with Dylan for a week or so in October. But when she re- 
turned to London he was nowhere to be found. Her letters 
and messages sent to the Savage Club where he normally 
received all of his London mail were never answered. She 
stayed in London for some weeks, learned that Dylan was ill 
and could not be seen and, finally, in the continued absence 
of any word from him at all, left for Greece feeling betrayed 
and unwanted. When she wrote to me expressing incompre- 
hension at Dylan's neglect of her, I wrote to say that I was 
convinced there had been some large misunderstanding. I was 
sure that Dylan could not intentionally be unkind, especially 
toward her, and asked her to stave off disillusion until the 
facts could be known. To remind her of the day on which 
Dylan had declared to me his love for her, I enclosed some 
of the snapshots we had taken on our river-bus excursion. 

[ 94 ] 

September, 1950 July, 1951 

Sarah wrote back early in January: "Your letter gave me as 
much delight as anything that's happened to me recently. 
Thank you, so much more than I can begin to say here, and 
just now, for writing as you did. And the pictures, which in 
my happily timeless suspension here seem to have been 
taken centuries ago, are wonderful to have, and help eradi- 
cate the woes of my second London quite entirely. For you 
are quite right, and neither of us needs, thank God, to con- 
template any disillusion. I wrote you a whining little note 
last week, which crossed your fine envelope packed with the 
best, and I spoke in that of a letter from Dylan. And the ex- 
planation did lie, as he discovered only when he got my let- 
ters from here, and as I suspected all the time, in the fine 

Italian hand of the grey lady, . I won't attempt to tell it 

all here, and there's no need, but Dylan was ill first with 
pleurisy and then pneumonia all the weeks I was in London, 
and she collected his mail for him at the Savage every morn- 
ing. What she did with them neither of us will probably ever 
know, but he saw none of my messages and my letters, noth- 
ing. She came to see me off at the air station when I finally 
did give up and go back to France, laden with her flowers 
and dulcet doom, and even now she sends me poisonously 
cheerful letters about how lucky I am to be out of England. 
But that's the end of it now, with all its soap-opera bubbles 
broken, finally." 

This last sentence was Sarah's epitaph for a romance 
which, as time would tell, had irrevocably foundered, partly 
through plotted intervention, partly through Dylan's inability 
to deal maturely with his feelings or to recognize their con- 
sequences. Soon, I learned from Sarah, he had gone off to 
Persia, to gather material for a filmscript on commission from 

[ 95 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

the Anglo-Iranian oil company. When I wrote to him in April 
I was again able to tender an invitation for him to read at the 
Poetry Center and to assure him that, should he care to un- 
dertake a second reading tour, I would be happy to begin 
planning for it at once. His reply contained the passage about 
our London Casino evening quoted earlier, and went on: 

I remember the Thames and old Sarah whom I saw 
something of later but who, I imagine, left London, as 
I imagined you had done, rasping to herself: "No more 
of that beer-cheapened hoddy-noddy, snoring, paunched, 
his corn, his sick, his fibs, I'm off to Greece where you 
know where you are; oh, his sodden bounce, his mis- 
theatrical-demeanor, the boastful tuppence!" I haven't 
heard from her since she went away. ... I am so glad, 
indeed, that you will be here in July; and I shall be less 
revolting than last time, whatever the sacrifice. And let 
us meet the truly great for tea, and go to Oxford where 
I know a human being. Caitlin will be in London in 
July, which will not make things any quieter. We both 
will probably be living there for some time: I am about 
to take on a new job: co-writing, with the best gagman 
in England he is an Irishman from New Zealand a 
new comic series for the radio. I have already thought of 
two jokes, both quite unusable. And may I come to Edith 
SitwelTs party for you? Her parties are always brilliant 
opportunities for self-disgrace. 

Give my love, if ever you see them or believe it, to 
Sarah, Lloyd and Loren, Marion and Cummings, Stanley 
Moss, Jean Garrigue, Gene Baro, Doris, David Lougee, 
Howard, Patrick Boland, and any ugly stranger in the 
street. Have a thousand boilermakers for me, and send 
me your stomach: I'll put it under my pillow. 

I have written three new poems, one alright, which I 
will, if you like, send you when I can find them. 

I have no news at all. I am broke and in debt. Now, 

[ 96 ] 

September, 1950 July, 1951 

next time: I would very much like (I'd adore it) to be 
imported to the States next year, 1952. The Poetry Centre 
paying my passage and the first fee. I would bring Caitlin 
with me, if by that time I have made, as I intend to do, 
much money from my ha ha scripts. And would you, 
could you, act as Agent or Christknows what for me 
again? I do not think I would wish to go through the 
Middle West, excepting Chicago, again, but anywhere, 
everywhere, else, unless I have quite ruined myself in all 
those places where you were not with me. Could you put 
out feelers, spin wheels, grow wings for me? I am so 
deadly sick of it here. I would bring great packages of 
new poems to read, and much more pre-written prose to 
pad them in. I would be much better than I was : I mean, 
sick less often. I mean, I would so-much like to come. 
Could you write to any friends or acquaintances I might 
have made and see if they would help. Would you, now? 
No, Persia wasn't all depressing. Beautiful Ispahan 
and Shiraz. Wicked, pompous, oily British. Nervous, cun- 
ning, corrupt and delightful Persian bloody bastards. 
Opium no good. Persian vodka, made of beetroot, like 
stimulating sockjuice, very enjoyable. Beer full of glyc- 
erine and pips. Women veiled, or unveiled ugly, or 
beautiful and entirely inaccessible, or hungry. The lovely 
camels who sit on their necks and smile. I shan't go there 

[ 97 1 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

WITH MY FRIEND, Bill Read from Boston, I sailed for Eng- 
land in July. When I phoned Dylan from London he asked us 
to come to Laugharne immediately and we promised to arrive 
at the beginning of the next week end. Taking the rickety 
night-sleeper of the Red Dragon from Paddington Station at 
midnight, we got off at Cardiff just after sunrise. Through the 
kindness of the British poet, Henry Treece, whom I had met 
in New York, I had been invited to give a lecture for the 
BBC by Aneirin Talfan, a friend of Dylan's who was in charge 
of the Welsh Home Service; our stop-over in Cardiff was for 
the purpose of discussing with Talfan the nature of remarks 
I would make. My best notion was to speak on "Dylan 
Thomas in America/' This pleased Talfan and we made an 
appointment to meet a week later in London, when I would 
have my script ready. 

Our train from Cardiff to Carmarthen was slow and over- 
crowded with bulky children in Scout uniforms. We watched 
the landscape change abruptly from the ravaged, begrimed 
valleys and sooty towns of the mining country to the electric 
green of the estuary region where sheep lay still as stones on 
hillsides and little picture-book castles were perched on prom- 

[ 98 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

ontories above inlets and the mouths of rivers. Pulling into 
Carmarthen in a hiss of steam, we sighted Dylan, the most im- 
portant and impatient man on the platform. He was hand- 
somely turned out in new tweeds, a bright silk ascot around his 
neck, a cap sitting rakishly over his protruding curls. Once 
more, I could see, he was The Host. Puffing a cigar, he peremp- 
torily took us in charge, ordered porters to see to our luggage, 
led us out to a waiting car he had hired in Laugharne, and in- 
troduced us to his chauffeur, Billy Williams. We got in, settled 
back for the ride to Laugharne, drove about three hundred 
yards, and stopped at a pub. Some two hours and six or seven 
roadside pubs later, we had covered the brief thirteen miles to 
Laugharne. Entering the village at the beginning of the long 
Welsh twilight, we drove through crooked streets lined with 
gray stuccoed houses, caught sight of the jaunty little town 
clock-tower with its weathercock sitting in the wind, passed by 
the wooden turnstile leading to the Castle, and stopped in the 
seaside bottom of the village at the Cross House, the pub 
where Caitlin was to join us. 

After a drink there, I told Dylan I most wanted to see the 
Castle. Bill and I had toured Cardiff Castle that morning, but its 
restored towers and brightly painted interiors had struck us as 
mere Victorian approximations of the medieval and we had al- 
ready become disillusioned about castles in general. Dylan led 
us outside and around a cobblestone corner. There in the sea- 
heavy gloaming floated ivy-walled Laugharne castle a crum- 
bling, dignified thrust of stone that seemed to organize the 
whole village about itself. Little boats with toothpick masts sat 
lopsided on the mud-flats under its eight-hundred-year-old 
walls, from which nearly horizontal trees leaned on the water. 
It was all that we could have hoped for in a castle. 

[ 99 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Back in the Cross House, we found the little pub beginning 
to fill up with villagers and Welsh song, the first notes of 
which struck us as curiously unmelodic and definitely off-key. 
Through the din of rising choruses, Caitlin arrived, bringing 
with her two friends, the Leishmans, who had driven over from 
Swansea to have dinner with us. I was quite taken aback by her 
Celtic blonde beauty, first, and then by the puzzling combina- 
tion in her manner and bearing of the primitive and the svelte. 
She was fashionably dressed in a wide-skirted red coat, her 
loosely-combed flaxen hair falling brightly over her shoulders. 
Struck by her sharp, exquisitely fine-boned features, her com- 
posed, seldom-changing expression, her observant yet fright- 
ened or distrustful eyes, I mentioned to Dylan that he had not 
prepared me for her at all. I had expected a country girl. Min- 
utes later, I noticed Dylan whispering to Caitlin. "Didn't I tell 
you?" I heard him say, and he came toward me. "Caitlin says 
you're just as nice as I said you were, but she never believes 
anything I tell her." 

Someone passed around a jar of pickled cockles and we ate 
these with our bitters as the pub became more crowded, smoky 
and boisterous. A grimy man in a cap began to sing the Welsh 
national anthem. This was uproariously taken up all around, 
and we departed from the Cross House on a loud cracked cre- 
scendo of Welsh pride. There were, we learned, two ways of 
going to the Boat House, where the Thomases lived. Over 
Caitlin's protest, Dylan decided that we should go, not through 
village streets and lanes, but by the seaside path which the tide 
washed over twice a day. First, we had to cross a deceptively 
narrow rivulet. In attempting to make this in one leap, most of 
us came down ankle-deep in mud. Bill, carrying Caitlin, lost his 
footing and they landed, sprawling, in marsh-grass. We pulled 

[ 100 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

them upright, but Bill's glasses had jumped from his pocket 
and had already been washed out to sea. Duck-footed, we 
picked our way along the oozing paths leading under the walls 
of the Castle and got to the Boat House through an opening in 
the breakwater that fenced in the small back yard. 

We were deep in the misty gloaming by now, so that our first 
sense of the house was but a partially true one. Not until day- 
light could we understand that it was as much given to the sea 
as sequestered against it. Beginning with the terrace, on which 
stood a few old weatherbeaten chairs and a knob-kneed table, 
there were four ascending levels. As you advanced into the 
house through the back door, you stepped onto the second 
level, and found yourself at the foot of a stairwell from which 
a dark genie's cavern of a kitchen led off to your left, and a 
shining ship-cozy dining room to your right. The stairs were as 
steep as those on shipboard, but you could keep your balance 
by hanging onto a rope railing as you ascended. At the head of 
the stairs, on the third level, you came to the front door. Open- 
ing this, you would find yourself at the bottom of a wild garden 
through which a stony, muddy path wound steeply upward 
through blackthorns and wild roses to a sort of promenade 
paralleling a mossy wall running along the property on which 
the Boat House stood. Leading off from the front door, to the 
left was the bedroom of the oldest child, Llewelyn; to the right 
was the sitting room with an adjoining bathroom. To reach the 
fourth level of the house you had to pass through the sitting 

While Caitlin prepared our meal downstairs, we talked in 
the sitting room as the wireless crackled with light program 
music from London, and went out to take the air on the little 
widow's-walk that ran around two sides of the house. Walking 

[ 101 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

on this was like walking on deck. Lights in the distance that 
seemed as though they might belong to passing ships were 
really lights in farmhouses across the mouth of the River Taf 
where it flowed into the estuary. The sitting room itself was 
informal, with a coal-burning grate over which stood a collec- 
tion of china objects on the mantelpiece and, except for a series 
of unframed Renoir prints Caitlin had tacked on the walls, 
wholly Mid- Victorian in feeling. The night was warm enough to 
allow doors and windows to remain open; sleepy bird calls and 
the wash of tidal waters filled the silences in our conversation. 

Downstairs, the six of us crowded the dining table in a room 
so tiny that anyone could touch a wall just by reaching out. We 
were talkative as Caitlin served us a good dinner of baked 
ham and steaming greens, but most of the conversation was 
initiated by the Leishmans, who wanted to exchange with 
Dylan news of old friends they shared in Swansea, where 
Dylan had lived until he was nearly twenty. 

Caitlin had very little to say throughout the meal, and I again 
had the feeling that she was meticulously observant but, for 
some reason, also suspicious. Her physical radiance which, be- 
cause she had no awareness of it, showed with a special charm, 
was a natural attribute; but within it, one felt, there was a spirit 
alternately caged and restless, quiescent and removed. 

It had been a long day for Bill and me, and our pub-crawl 
along the road from Carmarthen had made us sleepy. When 
the Leishmans left soon after dinner, we were glad to retire. I 
was put in the sitting room which, in the nature of things, was 
a thoroughfare for the whole Thomas family as they went to or 
from their bedrooms and, since Llewelyn was still away at 
school, Bill was given his room, which was decorated with 
drawings and photographs of airplanes and battleships and a 

[ 102 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

library of boys' adventure books. Dylan and Caitlin retired to 
the fourth level where Aeron and Colm, the younger children, 
in an adjoining room, were already long asleep. 

The soft singsong voices of children and the dazzle of the sea 
in every window woke me early. The whole family, except for 
Dylan, had passed alongside my day-bed as I slept soundly; 
now Caitlin, out of doors on the terrace, was calling us to 
breakfast. As we ate fried eggs in the sweet morning air, Dylan 
struggled out to join us, groaning, disheveled but in his char- 
acteristically good morning temper, and began his meal with a 
plate of fried kippers, Aeron, getting ready for school in the vil- 
lage, came to ask her mother to comb tangles out of her hair. 
Physically, she struck me as being very much like Dylan, with 
large dark eyes, a ruddy complexion, candy-brown hair golden 
on the edges, and with a bearing that was staunch and self- 
contained. In the presence of strangers, she seemed not so shy 
as preoccupied and indifferent. Behind her came Colm, the 
most beautiful child I have ever seen. His head might have 
come winging from some Tiepolo ceiling on which bodiless 
cherubs gaze with a vague sweetness at some sacred event. 
Silent, attentive only to his mother, he showed no interest at all 
in the visitors, and shortly disappeared with a little hum of self- 
pleasure back into the house. As Caitlin worked over her 
daughter's knotted locks, Aeron grimaced, screamed, fretted and 
otherwise dramatized her agony; yet she refused to allow her 
mother to give up until every hair was smoothly in place. 
When, finally, the ordeal was done with, she picked up her 
books, shot off through the house, up the garden. In a few min- 
utes, looking overhead to the promenade, we could see her 
sailing by on her bicycle. 

We went to the Castle after breakfast, Dylan jauntily lead- 

[ 103 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

ing Bill and me into the village along the high sea-wall. As we 
walked, I noticed a large bird on one of the sand bars exposed 
by the receding tide. It was sitting with its black wings 
stretched out in what seemed a very painful position to hold 
for more than a moment. Dylan said it was a cormorant. I asked 
him why the bird was holding itself in so awkward and tortur- 
ous a manner. "He thinks that's what a cormorant should do," 
said Dylan. "Nobody ever told him otherwise." To enter the 
Castle we had to pass through a turnstile where, at one time, 
visitors were asked to pay sixpence admission. The turnstile 
was untended now and we went through and alongside a pink- 
washed house once owned by Richard Hughes, the author of 
High Wind in Jamaica. Dylan and Caitlin had also lived in the 
house at one time, but it was not until more than a year later 
that I learned how importantly it had figured in their lives. 

Little trees and bushes reached out from the Castle at all an- 
gles. One had the feeling that the whole structure had passed 
through a kind of transubstantiation, that it was almost one 
again with the earth on which and out of which it had been 
constructed. Crumbling everywhere, its life running out like 
sand in an hour glass, invaded everywhere by flora and the 
little fauna of mice and owls, it seemed to be dying into time, 
quietly and without protest. By climbing wooden ladders 
placed inside one of the towers we came to a battlement. The 
roofs of Laugharne lay below and about us, as many-faceted 
and monochromatic as an early cubist painting. In the contin- 
ually restless wash of the estuary beyond, snowstorms of white 
birds lighted on sand bars, then rose at some invisible signal, 
wheeled about, and snowed down suddenly somewhere else. 
The morning had begun to turn damp and gray; we were glad 
to scramble down from the crenellated heights and follow 

[ 104 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

Dylan to Browns Hotel where, at last, the pub was legally 

Ivy Williams, of whom Dylan had often spoken, and to whom 
I knew he was deeply attached, greeted us pleasantly but non- 
committally and served us each a glass of pale ale. A motherly, 
girlish-faced woman with large intelligent eyes, she smoked cig- 
arettes continually in a long black holder as she gossiped with 
Dylan. At the same time, she kept disappearing into the back 
of the hotel to watch over pots and pans bubbling on the stove, 
coming back to tend bar as other villagers came in for a late- 
morning's pick-me-up. Dylan's greetings to the villagers and 
theirs to him were made in mumblings and monosyllables a 
sort of respectful, familiar, yet at the same time distant ex- 
change. They knew, of course, that he had business in the big 
world, that he had been to America, and that he was regarded 
importantly in London, and most of them had probably heard 
him on the wireless or seen him on television. Yet nothing in 
their manner toward him suggested that they were particularly 
impressed, or even that they understood just what Dylan's dis- 
tinction was. For his part, and without effort, Dylan's manner 
in his own village seemed to be directed toward looking and 
acting as much like everyone else as possible. 

Leaving Bill and me in the pub to chat with Ivy, Dylan went 
out to make arrangements for an automobile excursion he 
wanted us to take in the afternoon, and to call on his father 
and mother, who lived just across the street from the hotel. The 
day had become even more gray and cold, with a sea chill that 
seemed to get through one's clothing and touch the skin. When 
we returned to the Boat House for lunch, Caitlin was not at all 
enthusiastic about Dylan's plans, saying that she would be 
happy to have the three of us go along without her. But she 

[ 105 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

gave in to our pleadings that she join us, and we all walked 
back to the village. Dylan had, again, engaged Billy Williams 
and his old Buick which served as a sort of community taxi. 
We started out by driving northward to St. Clears, then west- 
ward, bound for the very tip of southwestern Wales. But within 
half an hour, at Dylan's suggestion, we had stopped at a pub 
for something to take the chill off the day. As we drove on, 
slightly warmed by whiskies and the enthusiasm of a buxom 
barmaid for Americans, Caitlin, seated between me and Bill in 
the back seat while Dylan chatted with Billy Williams in the 
front seat, began in a low voice to ask me about Sarah. Where 
was she now? Was she coming to England? Did she write to 
Dylan? What sort of woman was she? Surprised, and uncom- 
fortable, I was able to offer only a few vague answers as I tried 
to find some way of changing the subject. But my evasiveness 
displeased Caitlin and she did not hestitate to say so. When I 
could see that she expected me to share with her confidences I 
had had from Dylan, I was nonplussed, yet hopeful of finding 
some means to save our being alienated so early in a relation- 
ship. I then tried to answer some of her questions but, with 
Dylan's head barely three feet away from ours, was hard put 
to say anything that would satisfy her, or to find a way to post- 
pone so inflammatory a discussion. 

Because of the Welsh practice of lining roads with high 
wind-breaking hedges, there was little in the way of landscape 
to see as we drove along. But eventually we came to an open 
space just a few hundred yards from the sea and stopped be- 
fore a barren little pub facing a rather desolate stretch of peb- 
bled beach over which cold waves threw icy-looking dashes of 
spray. There was not a bather in sight, but Caitlin announced 
that she, at least, was going in for a swim. While the rest of us 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

adjourned to the pub, she changed into swimming clothes and, 
as we watched from the doorway, advanced without hesitation 
toward the black waters and splashed in. Huddling about the 
bar like orphans of the storm, we tried to warm ourselves with 
talk and drink until Caitlin returned, shaking water out of her 
hair and saying she was wonderfully refreshed. Shivery, we 
had another drink, climbed into the car, and moved on. But 
now there were further embarrassing questions and further con- 
genial though ineffective attempts to evade or postpone them 
to the point where I could sense that my lack of co-operation 
was setting up a tension with which I was quite unprepared to 
deal. She had finally become silent, and perhaps a little mo- 
rose, by the time we got to our destination, the village of St. 
David's Head. There we left the car to inspect the ruins of a 
monastery that once marked the very farthest western point of 
medieval Christianity in Britain, and to visit the great crude- 
stone cathedral. We wandered in and out of huge galleries, took 
photographs on a greensward enclosed by great lichen-covered 
walls, and for a time almost succeeded in being merry when, as 
we took photographs, Dylan strutted like Mussolini and Bill 
hung upside-down from a battlement. The happiest result of 
our visit was a group portrait of Dylan, Caitlin, Bill and Billy 
Williams. In spite of the rather low-keyed enthusiasm with 
which we had started on the trip, and against the low-voiced 
conversations and mounting tensions that dogged us, the group 
in the picture somehow looks beatific, almost Biblical. THe 
camera had never lied more gracefully; I still cannot connect 
the composure of the portrait with the nervewracking intimacy 
of that benighted outing. 

Back in the car, Caitlin suggested that we return to Laugh- 
arne. Dylan would not hear of this, and appealed to Bill and 

[ 107 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

me. We said we would be happy to do whatever they decided; 
but we both already knew that no one would be happy no 
matter what anyone decided. We sat in silence at a crossroads, 
the wind singing mournfully about our impasse. Then, with a 
shrug of resignation, Caitlin gave in, and Dylan directed Billy 
to drive us to a place where, the pubs now being closed, we 
might have tea. This turned out to be a stark white wooden 
house overlooking marshes on the outskirts of St. David's. As 
we waited, in magnified unhappy silence, for our skimpy serv- 
ings of toast and tea, Caitlin remained wordless, her mind 
closed against the company and far away. Everyone was un- 
comfortable, restive, and no one could find any means of alle- 
viating the worsening situation. Tea warmed our spirits but lit- 
tle, and when we returned to the car I knew that everyone felt 
as I did: that the trip had already shown itself to be miscon- 
ceived, ill-assorted and interminable. Again Caitlin suggested 
that we go home. I hoped, desperately now, that Dylan would 
agree, but he did not. He had in mind a place beyond Fish- 
guard where we could have "a magnificent lobster dinner." 

Heading northward, ever farther away from home, we were 
now a thoroughly disconsolate party. The pub visits Dylan in- 
sisted we make every few miles of the way seemed only to 
deepen our despair. As we dragged continually out of the car 
and into dimly-lighted rooms full of strangers who stared at us, 
there were momentary flashes of conviviality due to Dylan's 
joy in the new pint placed before him, but these were forced 
and impossible to sustain in the presence of unanswered ques- 
tions that nothing could cancel. We would straggle back to the 
car, prisoners of one another, making fizzling little attempts by 
a word or a gesture to see ourselves in the absurdity of the 
predicament. But finally, as we rode along in utter silence, we 

[ 108 ] 

July, iggiJune, 1952 

rounded a hilltop to sight Fishguard harbor through a mist so 
heavy that it seemed permanent, then drove on toward what 
Dylan described as a famous old cove once used by smugglers 
and pirates. There, just a few yards from the sea, was a some- 
what ramshackle clapboard inn snugly sequestered between 
cliffs. We were the only patrons. The flustered proprietress, 
who obviously expected no one on this miserable evening, 
greeted us with notably more anxiety than pleasure. The prom- 
ise of a lobster dinner which Dylan had used in goading us on- 
ward was, it turned out, rather untenable. The proprietress 
said she had one lobster a fairly good-sized one, to be sure 
and that she thought she could "make it do." The thought of 
searching for another place to have a meal in which no one was 
interested led us to accepting her offer without hesitation. We 
were shortly seated at a well-appointed candlelit table. Barley 
soup came first, followed by a sort of salad within the depths of 
which we might search daintily for infinitesimal fragments of 
lobsters. No one had enough poise to make a joke of this pa- 
thetic process, and we picked away in benumbed silence. Then 
Caitlin ordered our waiter to bring a bottle of white wine. For 
some reason, Dylan vehemently objected to this. A scene en- 
sued, imprecations and sulky threats were exchanged as the 
wide-eyed waiter brought in the order and scurried back to the 
kitchen. Caitlin poured herself a glass, and the rest of us, as if 
we were afraid not to, meekly followed her example. Candles 
flickered in the appalling quiet as, finally, we sipped tea and 
picked hungrily at a few gutted lobster shells. 

As we were getting into the car to begin the long homeward 
trip, Caitlin refused to take her place in the back seat. She 
ordered Dylan to sit between Bill and me while she joined 
Billy Williams in the front seat. We drove off, more bogged in 

[ 109 l 

Dylan Thomas in America 

hopelessness than ever. Dylan willed himself into sleep almost 
at once. It was dark now and, with Dylan suddenly unconscious, 
our sense of being encased in a dilemma became even more 
acute. Caitlin began speaking to Billy and we heard her say 
loudly that she was anxious to get home, where she was ex- 
pecting a visit from some "real friends, not Americanos." 
Other remarks, only parts of which I could overhear, carried 
the same resentment. Bill and I remained silent. Then Caitlin 
spotted a roadside pub and said she wanted to stop for a drink. 
I remained with Dylan, now sleeping on my shoulder, as the 
others went in for half an hour or so. At last, but only after 
having been lost in fog several times at crossroads and having 
been misdirected by Welsh-speaking natives, we came upon 
the road to Laugharne and got back to the Boat House about 
eleven o'clock. 

Dylan, urged from sleep, went directly and unspeaking to 
his room. I was waiting for everyone else to retire before going 
to bed in the sitting room when Caitlin came up the stairs, 
brushed by me swiftly and turned as she reached the entrance 
to the third floor. "Now you can see what I mean," she said 
angrily. "America is out!" Without a further word, she left. Be- 
wildered, I conferred with Bill. We would have to leave, I felt, 
and at once. Consulting a railroad timetable we found there 
was no train from Carmarthen before daylight. With Laugh- 
arne already bedded down for the night and "Bible-black," we 
knew there was no exit. We tried to come upon some hidden 
reason for Caitlin's displeasure and to arrive, with very little to 
base judgment upon, at some objective sense of our situation. 
Unless she regarded my refusal to relate details of Dylan's re- 
lations with women in America as a betrayal, we could find 
nothing overt that might account for her anger or explain her 

[ no ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

rudeness. We decided, tentatively, that we were but incidental 
victims of some old grudge, some old unresolved irritation be- 
tween her and Dylan, or between her and Dylan's friends. 
Perhaps, we thought, but with no reason or faith, everything 
would be different in the morning. Perhaps the little storm our 
presence brought on had really nothing to do with us. But 
we knew we were grasping at possibilities and feeding on 
cold comfort. We went to bed uneasy, unhappy and wondering 
what to do. 

In the morning Caitlin was as sunny and mild as the 
weather. She greeted us pleasantly, had big cups of tea sent up 
while we were dressing, and later sat down with us for break- 
fast on the terrace. It was as if the dreadful day before had 
never existed. Relaxing in sunny ambience, throwing crusts of 
bread to expectant swans that floated by under the break- 
water, we allowed the bad dream to pass. We would take the 
new day as it came. Soon Dylan arrived with a shining morning 
face that showed no sign in the world of the stress which had, 
just nine or ten hours before, sent him into unconsciousness. 
When the meal was over, he guided Bill and me into the vil- 
lage to visit his parents in their little gray house, the Pelican, on 
the main street just a few steps from the post office. 

His mother short, voluble, with frizzy white hair fussed 
over us and sat us down to a second breakfast of toast, tea and 
hard-boiled egg in a white china cup. His father, a lean, re- 
served man dressed with careful and quiet elegance, sat by the 
grate fire, an afghan over his shoulders. As Mrs. Thomas kept 
chatting inconsequentials, clucking about the kitchen sitting 
room, one had the feeling that Dylan's father was content 
merely to observe this gathering of his son and his son's friends. 
Dylan fretted in some embarrassment under his mother's over- 

Dylan Thomas in America 

attentiveness, yet there was obviously a bond between them 
that nothing could embarrass. But if he was unquestionably the 
apple of his mother's eye, in his father's eye he was still an 
object of a curiously dispassionate interest. There was some- 
thing respectful yet unmistakably distant and wary between 
the two men, something that made for a mutual lack of ease. 
His mother's busy solicitude, one felt, was an old familiar 
means of denying or ignoring this. When she took Bill into her 
kitchen garden to help her dig some vegetables to take home to 
Caitlin, I had a rambling chat with Dylan and his father about 
an American's impressions of Wales and then about America 
and some of Dylan's more respectable adventures there. But no 
real conversation developed, mainly, I thought, because none 
of us especially Dylan could break through the formal 
father-and-son relationship to say freely and unguardedly just 
what he meant. 

David Thomas had been a schoolmaster, I knew, and I had 
learned from Dylan that much of his own early education had 
been more the result of his father's tutelage than of formal 
schooling. Not until after Dylan's death did I learn that his 
father had had an early unrealized ambition as a poet. This 
revelation took me back to our visit the only time when I had 
seen them together and explained somewhat my feeling that 
Dylan's father looked upon him with as much curiosity as with 
pride. The poet manqu had brought forth the poet r6ussL 

When Bill came back into the kitchen with a basket of beets 
and carrots and tomatoes, we said good-by and were ushered 
through the long dark middle hallway that conventionally di- 
vides Welsh houses. Just as we were about to leave, my glance 
fell on the handbag I had sent to Caitlin from New York the 
one in which I had cached what was left of Dylan's American 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

earnings hanging from a nail on the back of a door. I said 
nothing about this but, later, guessing I may have noticed it, 
Caitlin explained that since Dylan had neglected to bring his 
mother a gift from America, she had persuaded him to present 
the bag to her. The eight hundred dollars in cash had mean- 
while been removed. Dylan now wanted to go to the pub at 
Browns Hotel, but since neither Bill nor I was ready to begin 
another day's drinking, we all three parted to go separate ways. 
Bill went off through the village to climb the hedgerowed 
slopes of Sir John's Hill; J went back to the Boat House and 
into Dylan's studio to make a first draft of my radio script. 

The studio, which Dylan called "the shack," was painted 
green, perched above the house and about a hundred yards 
from it on the stone-walled path leading into the village. While 
it was no more than ten feet long and seven feet wide, large 
windows on two sides brought in sunlight and sea light, saving 
it from seeming cramped. One window looked upon a watery 
vista shallows between long sloping hills terminating in 
the Irish Sea; the other looked out across the narrow part of 
Carmarthen Bay toward Sir John's Hill. The interior, originally 
whitewashed, was now a grimy, weather-and-insect-speckled 
gray. On the walls were tacked-up photographs wet weather 
had curled or faded or mottled with mildew. Topmost in the 
room, over the small wooden table that served Dylan for a 
desk, was a handsome portrait of Walt Whitman. Other photo- 
graphs showed Marianne Moore in a big black hat, a youthful 
version of Edith Sitwell, a study of a Mexican mother and child 
by Cartier-Bresson. 

As a whole, the studio was a rat's-nest of chewed, rolled and 
discarded papers piles of manuscripts, unanswered ( often 
unopened) letters, empty cigarette packages, small stacks of 

Dylan Thomas in America 

literary periodicals, tradesmen's bills and publishers' brochures. 
Snatches of reworked poetry lay under empty beer-bottles. 
Volumes of poetry moldered where they had been placed 
months, years before. Besides its single table and two straight- 
backed chairs, the studio contained three or four half-filled 
cartons of books, and a small black coal-burning stove. 

I cleared a small space for myself in the litter of the table- 
top, opened a window to let out wasps that had suddenly come 
to life, and sat down to make notes for my broadcast. 

A few hours later Dylan and Bill came to take me to the 
Cross House, where Dylan was to meet friends who had just 
come over from Oxford. They were a married couple he a 
beet-faced, beard-thicketed Englishman who might have 
stepped out of Punch; she was a steely-hard patrician with a 
Marxist, America-hating bias that crept into even the most in- 
nocuous moments of conversation. They had come to Laugh- 
arne to spend a fortnight's holiday in a little whitewashed cot- 
tage. As we drank in rather minimal cordiality in the Cross 
House, the customary Saturday night song fest raged about us. 
We bore it until our eardrums ached, then said good nights and 
walked by the Village route back to the Boat House. Sitting 
down to dinner some time after ten, we came around to discuss- 
ing weird murder cases and our various notions of proper pun- 
ishment for convicted sex-fiends. Dylan zestfully told of a man 
who had disemboweled a young virgin, arranged her entrails in 
decorative patterns, and written her name in her own blood on 
a window pane. Caitlin felt that this was a case where the mur- 
derer should receive the same treatment. Dylan felt that all 
sex-fiends should be shot. There seemed to be no disagreement 
in their points of view, but, as the gruesome conversation pro- 
gressed, I became aware of a rising tension between them and 

[ "4 ] 

July, iQ 5 i]une, 1952 

of a tendency in Caitlin to ridicule any idea that Dylan might 
express. Holding an empty matchbox in his hand, Dylan sud- 
denly flipped this in Caitlin's direction and it landed on her 
shoulder. She picked up the matchbox and threw it in his face. 
Dylan said that that was unfair the matchbox had just 
slipped from his fingers. Before he could finish his sentence, 
Caitlin, with one fierce grip, reached for his hair and pulled 
him out of his seat and onto the floor. Before Bill and I knew 
what was happening, we were in the midst of a melee. Chairs 
got knocked over, dishes were pushed from the table as, blow 
for blow, the combatants wrestled toward the kitchen. Gaping, 
we sat benumbed over our cooling food and listened helplessly 
to sounds of skirmish coming from the next room. With a sud- 
den sharp cry, Dylan broke away and we could hear him run- 
ning up the stairs. In a moment Caitlin came back to the dining 
room and, towering over us, her eyes flashing, her face steely, 
said, "Thank you for helping a lady in distress!" 

Stunned by the episode, we tried limply to explain that we 
felt we could not interfere; and otherwise to make some sem- 
blance of conversation that might lead us out of nightmare. We 
were successful in this, oddly enough, and a long discussion of 
Dylan's and Caitlin's married life ensued. Listening, not with- 
out genuine sympathy, to her litany of Dylan's inadequacies as 
a father, husband and provider, we had come upon the one 
means of gaining Caitlin's interest and, temporarily at least, her 
acceptance. In our shaken state, Bill and I could contribute lit- 
tle but monosyllables of agreement and, we hoped, under- 
standing. But our small response seemed no discouragement to 
Caitlin, and she poured out her grievances for more than an 
hour. During this monologue I found the telling clue to her dis- 
trust and dislike of me. "Dylan always speaks of you as his 

[ us 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

closest friend in America," she said, "but all you do is flatter 
him and make him feel like some sort of god. When he came 
back from America his head was bigger than ever. They ought 
to know what he's really like in America all those fool women 
who chase after him while I'm left here to rot in this bloody bog 
with three screaming children and no money to pay the bills he 
leaves behind him. He won't go to America again without me 
and I shan't go, so that's that." 

She left us to our own devices then. Once more, confounded 
and dismayed at the unhappiness we had seen so blatantly ex- 
pressed, we went to bed. The house where lived "the plagued 
groom and bride who have brought forth the urchin grief/' the 
house which Dylan had described as "a sea-shaken house on a 
breakneck of rocks," was, we knew, shaken by something more 
violent and no less threatening than the sea. 

While we had now become used to the incredible, we were 
still incredulous when, once more, the morning revealed every- 
thing in order, everyone calm, soft-spoken and congenially at 
ease. We played games with Aeron and Colm after breakfast, 
lazily fingered through the Sunday newspapers from London, 
and listened vaguely to religious music on the wireless. Dylan 
turned first, I noticed, not to the literary columns, but to the 
horse-racing results; he told me that he placed a couple of shil- 
lings every other day or so with the local bookmaker. On this 
Sunday morning the results were all against him. 

Late morning I went alone to the studio to make a final draft 
of my radio script, and came back for lunch on the terrace 
about one o'clock. Since everyone was curious to know what I 
was up to in my British radio debut, I read what I had written 
to Dylan, Caitlin and Bill as we relaxed in the sun after our 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

"In Cardiff a few days ago I visited the National Museum 
where the long history of the land of Wales is told in fragments 
of stone, bronze, pottery and jewelry, in parchment and in pig- 
ment where, by following the guidebook, one can witness 
from its primordial beginnings the legend of human enterprise 
on these shores until, descending the steps, point-blank, one 
faces into the busy daylight of circling cars and buses, and 
emerges half-blind into the present. The function of a museum 
is, of course, to preserve as many evidences of history as is pos- 
sible in the most compact space, to embalm under glass those 
traces of time that connect us with preconscious existence. 
One's visit has much the quality of the reading of a scholarly, 
illustrated volume in which the text provides perspectives for 
the pictures. As I came away, I felt the Museum had provided 
me with a metaphor I should like to apply to the subject of my 
talk, the poet Dylan Thomas of Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, 
and his reputation and influence in America. 

"To qualify my metaphor before I go on with it, I must say 
that among the work of poets writing in English, that of Dylan 
Thomas is by all odds the least reminiscent of the still air of a 
museum. And yet I am aware of no other poet whose work 
carries with it that sense of having encompassed the stratifica- 
tions of human history, of possessing the past as well as the 
present, of having sounded again echoes that make the early 
darkness alive. And it is just this recreation of the living past in 
the living present that distinguishes him as a poet, and which 
contributes largely to the wonder and astonishment with which 
American readers first encounter him. 

"Although it is not always consciously felt, Americans, more 
than any other people on earth, have a basic need for assur- 
ances as to their identity. Our history is brief, and our national 

[ 117 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

character, compounded of so many heterogeneous influences, 
still does not allow of definition. While we have created an 
American legend recognized by the rest of the world, we our- 
selves have little real association with it. Most Americans know 
in their hearts that the American dream is something in which 
they have but a small part. In spite of the success with which 
the American myth has been published at home as well as 
abroad, Americans long for that which other peoples take quite 
for granted the simple signs of speech, of place, of character 
and tradition that might tell them who they are. As a Welsh- 
man rooted deeply in his people and his land, Dylan Thomas 
speaks to us from sources we have lost, and we are drawn by his 
native accents with nostalgia and the excitement of vicarious 

"Other poets may win our attention when they write as ana- 
lysts or as philosophical victims of the modern world, and may 
objectify for us the unexpressed thoughts and emotions that 
move us, but Dylan Thomas touches us alive, not only to our 
common dilemma in a violent age, but to our common human- 
ity which in his poems is not merely proffered for contempla- 
tion, but recreated. He has made of the history in his bones a 
speech that we come upon with instantaneous enlightenment, 
as if the barriers of geography and time had fallen away. We 
know him and respond to what he says because he speaks to 
us as an ancient who has somehow survived the impositions of 

"I do not want to imply that Dylan Thomas is a primitive, or 
that he is so regarded. We know even without the evidence 
turned up by our critics and students of literature that his 
poetry is not only the work of a man immersed in his native 
history, but that it is the product of a sophisticated craftsman 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

sharply aware of that literary tradition which his contribution 
both transforms and continues. We find in him not only the 
lyrical finesse and delicacy of the seventeenth century, but the 
vigor and breadth of Walt Whitman. For American readers, 
this combination is irresistible. We read Whitman when we are 
young, and he implants in us a lively vision of democracy that 
persists as part of our belief. But as we grow older, we find less 
and less satisfaction in his qualities as an artist, and finally tend 
to remember him as a prophet rather than as a poet. On the 
other hand, we find that our youthful acquaintance with 
Donne and Marvell and Herrick and Crashaw grows into a 
loving knowledge. While Whitman, the laureate of large ideals, 
lies forgotten on the shelf, we read these earlier poets with 
new pleasure and are perhaps puzzled by the change that has 
come over us. When we read Dylan Thomas, then, we feel again 
not only the breadth and grandeur that Whitman once evoked, 
but that finely-wrought music of the intellectual eye and ear 
which charms us back to the seventeenth-century lyricists. In 
short, I believe we find a combination of democratic expression 
and aristocratic artistry which satisfies a dual need which we 
may not have consciously recognized. 

"Beyond Whitman, the other major affinity of Dylan Thomas 
in American literature would, I think, be Herman Melville; 
and I believe that the recent re-discovery and revaluation of 
Melville as an American artist has been based upon quite the 
same premises as our response to Dylan Thomas. I have not the 
time to deal with similarities between the two men, but it 
would appear obvious to me that once the notion had been set 
before them, few readers would be unaware of the whole range 
of ideas, images and historically-encrusted metaphors which 
Dylan Thomas shares with the creator of Moby Dick. The liter- 

Dylan Thomas in America 

ary obsession of both men is the confirmation of a basic human 
identity transcending the mutations of history and in pursuit 
of this, both have written with a consciousness of time not as a 
sequence of events harking backwards and downwards, but as 
though history itself were a landscape surrounding the houses 
in which they lived. 

"A further aspect of Dylan Thomas's poetry that appeals to 
Americans is the exotic unfamiliarity of its imagery. This is 
perhaps a lesser source of appeal, but an important one. While 
we think, as a rule, of the exotic as something rarefied, and out 
of reach, and perhaps slightly bogus, the exotic in Dylan Thom- 
as's poems is something that intrigues and charms us because 
we have every confidence that he is giving us a vision of the 
world he sees and knows, and that only by the accidents of time 
and place are we ourselves prevented from confirming the real- 
ity of his observations. It has been most revealing to me, for in- 
stance, to recognize in Wales something I had known pre- 
viously only as part of a poem. 

"The tangency of literary reality to observed reality is an un- 
important consideration in the work of a poet since, after all, in 
the writing of every poem he is concerned with creating an 
artifact. But in spite of that critical understanding, we are al- 
ways delighted when some slight contact with the scene of a 
poem or a story throws new light on what we felt we had com- 
pletely known. For years, a particular image from one of Dylan 
Thomas's poems has always pleased me immensely and that 
image is, The heron-priested shore/ To me it has always con- 
jured up a druidical series of tall birds standing as if in per- 
formance of some ritual along a water's-edge. The picture I 
saw was large and quite pleasantly satisfying as a glimpse of 
far-away Wales, but since I had never actually seen a heron in 

[ 120 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

its natural state, my experience of this image was, without my 
ever knowing it, quite vague and limited. But now that I have 
seen herons along the very shore where Thomas sees them, I 
am delighted to find that while my first impression had a liter- 
ary validity, my new impression is based upon the observation 
that herons do stand in sacerdotal attitudes, as if they were 
perpetually extending benedictions, and that, when they are 
surrounded by kitty-wicks and oyster-catchers, they do recall 
priests crowded about by parishioners. One could find hun- 
dreds of such instances in which observed reality expanded the 
literary reality, or transformed it so that the point I want to 
make of my own experience, is the fact that while so much of 
Dylan Thomas's world is strange to the American reader, and 
shut away from observation, he has invested that world with 
such conviction and presented it so soundly that we accept his 
most exotic images with absolute confidence that they do not 
only grace the iconography of his poems but that they are ge- 
neric to the landscape of his country. As he himself has written: 

Who in these labyrinths, 

This tidethread and the lane of scales, 

Twine in a moon-blown shell, 

Escapes to the flat cities* sails 

Furled on the fishes' house and hell, 

Nor falls to His green myths? 

Stretch the salt photographs, 

The landscape grief, love in His oils 

Mirror from man to whale 

That the green child see like a grail 

Through veil and fin and fire and coil 

Time on the canvas paths. 

"In speaking of Dylan Thomas's influence on poetry written 
in America, I believe I can say that it has been profound, but 

Dylan Thomas in America 

that its real force is somewhat difficult to measure. He has been 
widely imitated, of course, but almost always with disastrous 
consequence and I believe this is so because his methods, 
which offer many possibilities for approximation in texture and 
rhythm, simply cannot be seized upon and used to any worthy 
end. Rather, they must be earned in the same rigid process by 
which Thomas himself has achieved them which is to say 
that his methods develop out of a way of discovering and in- 
terpreting areas of feeling in which rhythm and texture are 
determined by the quality of perception. American imitations, 
as a rule, have seemed synthetic and manufactured because 
they have been conceived out of a purely literary experience, 
whereas Thomas's own poems are conceived out of the living 
experience of a deeply known time and place. 

"It is my own impression that Thomas's real influence is evi- 
dent in what American poets do not do, or in what they have 
given up. Since his arrival on the literary scene there has been 
a great decrease in didacticism in American poetry, a newly 
recovered awareness of the plasticity of the English language, 
and, most important, a new realization that the individual 
psyche can be creatively plumbed. He has shown us that ex- 
ploration of the inner world of the individual need not result 
in the pale and rarefied poetry we used to label as 'ivory 
tower/ but that the universal lies deep within the individual 
and invites his resourcefulness. 

"Since all American readers of poetry know Thomas, con- 
temporary standards of judgment have of course been affected 
by his career. Our best American poets are quite unlike him, 
but none of them writes without having first taken into account 
his innovations or without studying the masterful way in which 
he has himself assimilated strong literary influences. 

July, iQsiJune, 1952 

"It will be years before the breadth of his impact on Ameri- 
can poetry can be adequately measured, but there is no question 
of the tremendous response he evokes from American readers. 
When he came to the States last year, his progress across the 
continent was marked by the kind of reception which, in the 
nineteenth century, would have been described as 'a triumphal 
tour/ He traveled for three months, reading his poems in col- 
leges and universities and literary societies from Florida to Van- 
couver and from Los Angeles to Boston, and I do believe that, 
had he the endurance, he could very well be traveling in Amer- 
ica still. As one American poet expressed it, his presence was 
'a Dionysian experience for the academies/ In a time when 
nearly all our poets are tamed by scholarship and professional 
respectability as teachers or editors or librarians, when our 
representative poetry is careful, learned, but quite immovably 
anchored to acceptable forms and intellectual cliches, his read- 
ings and his personality struck us with delight and surprise. We 
had, for lack of evidence, almost forgotten that even in our 
day, poetry and the poet could be possessed of the demonic 
character which so disturbed Plato, but which had nonetheless 
survived as one of the happier legends of Western culture. 
With Dylan Thomas we have recovered much that we had 
believed lost, and I know that many Americans share with me 
the wonder that proceeds from the fact that in our time the 
voice that speaks to us most clearly comes not from among 
skyscrapers or from the great plains or from the wide new 
cities of the West but from a little village quite settled in 
its silence on the far shores of Wales." 

When I had finished reading, Dylan said, as if he were quot- 
ing a newspaper headline: "Randy-dandy Curly-girly Poet 

[ 1*3 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Leaps into Sea from Overdose of Praise," and made as if to 
throw himself over the sea wall. "All there is for me to do now 
is disappear," he said. "I didn't know you thought I was that 
good." When Caitlin said she liked the piece, lunch ended in 
the first general good feeling since the beginning of our visit. 
As Bill took his camera and was about to set off on a tour of 
the village, Dylan asked me if I would mind coming to the 
studio to hear some of his new poems. Taking two bottles of 
ale with us, we climbed through the brambled garden, walked 
along the upper wall from which we could see the great esses 
the tide left in the estuary, the "scummed, starfish sands /With 
their fishwife cross/Gulls, pipers, cockles, and sails," and went 
into the studio. He first read "In the White Giant's Thigh," 
then, "Poem for His Birthday." His reading in private, while 
naturally less loud, was fully as rich and dramatic as in public. 
His professional attitude toward each poem as a text to be com- 
municated dissolved any feeling of embarrassment that might 
have touched so intimate a performance. Then he scrawled 
the inscription "To dear John from cheap Dylan, with love" 
across the bottom of a typewritten copy of a poem he was go- 
ing to use as a prologue to the new English and American 
editions of his Collected Poems, and asked me to read it. But, 
first, he would have to point out the rhyme scheme, which he 
did not think anyone would notice without careful study. The 
first line of the first section rhymed with the last line of the 
second section with one hundred other lines between; the 
second line of the first section with the second from the last line 
of the second section, and so on until lines fifty-one and fifty- 
two formed the only rhymed couplet in the poem. When I ex- 
pressed amazement at the intricacy of this scheme, Dylan 
said, "As a matter of fact, the poem began as a letter to you." 

[ 124 i 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

"What happened to the letter?" I asked. "I just kept the idea 
and some of the images and went on with the poem instead." I 
told him I was pleased, naturally, that the letter had proved 
such an inspiration, and suggested, a little caustically, that he 
write more often, if only as a means of finding his way into new 

He had finished another poem, still untitled, which he had 
written for his father who, he felt, had but little time to live. 
It began, "Do not go gentle into that good night." I asked him 
if he had shown the poem to his father. He had not, he said, but 
hoped he would have the courage to read it to him very soon. 
What he most wanted me to hear were fragments of a "kind of 
play for voices" he was thinking about. This would be called 
"Llareggub Hill" (the first word can be read backwards) and 
was to be a dramatic poem on the life of a Welsh village very 
much like Laugharne. It would have no conventional dramatic 
continuity, but would consist of an interweaving of many 
voices, with the strong central voice of a narrator to supply the 
unities of time, place and situation. He then read me the sec- 
tion that revealed Captain Cat speaking the dreams that take 
him back to a life at sea. This was one of the fragments that was 
to be expanded into his last work, "Under Milk Wood." 

We began to speak of working methods. I had noticed that 
on many of his manuscripts Dylan would add a single word or 
a phrase, or a new punctuation, then recopy the whole poem in 
longhand. When another addition or revision was made, no 
matter how minor or major, he would then copy the whole 
poem again. When I asked him about this laborious repetition, 
he showed me his drafts of "Fern Hill." There were more than 
two hundred separate and distinct versions of the poem. It 
was, he explained, his way of "keeping the poem together," so 

[ 125 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

that its process of growth was like that of an organism. He be- 
gan almost every poem merely with some phrase he had carried 
about in his head. If this phrase was right, which is to say, if it 
were resonant or pregnant, it would suggest another phrase. In 
this way a poem would "accumulate/' Once "given" a word 
(sometimes the prime movers of poems were the words of 
other poems or mere words of the dictionary that called out 
to be "set") or a phrase or a line (or whatever it is that is 
"given" when there is yet a poem to "prove") he could often 
envision it or "locate" it within a pattern of other words or 
phrases or lines that, not given, had yet to be discovered: so 
that sometimes it would be possible to surmise accurately that 
the "given" unit would occur near the end of the poem or near 
the beginning or near the middle or somewhere between. 

He had picked up somewhere a notion that he liked: poems 
are hypothetical and theoremaric. In this view the hypothesis 
of a poem would be the emotional experience, the instant of 
vision or insight, the source of radiance, the minute focal point 
of impulse and impression. While these make up what is com- 
monly called inspiration, poetic logic should prove the validity 
of the ephemeral moments they describe. To look at a new 
poem, then, is to ask: How successfully does it demonstrate its 

About the reading of poetry, he felt that only perusal of the 
printed page or perhaps the interior or critical monologue, or 
private discussion could give to each poem the full concen- 
trated time that any poem is justified in asking for the assess- 
ment of its success or failure to demonstrate its own hypothesis. 
In public, only the poem itself can be presented, and there its 
effect depends upon the immediacy with which the hypothesis, 
the moment and motive of inspiration, can affect the reader 

t 126 j 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

through his ear. In other words, and as he was later fond of 
saying, the printed page is the place in which to examine the 
works of a poem, the platform the place in which to give the 
poem the works. 

There was one line in "Fern Hill," he said, that embarrassed 
him. He felt he should not have allowed the poem to be pub- 
lished until the line had been excised in favor of a better one. 
But months of thinking how to change it had led nowhere. 
When I asked him what the offending line was, he gave me 
a copy of the poem and asked me to pick it out. I could not. 
Then he pointed to the passage, 

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay 

Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was 


In the sun born over and over, 
I ran my heedless ways, . . . 

and said with a sneer, " 'ran my heedless ways!' that's bloody 

Our talk rambled, then, but I remember clearly Dylan's say- 
ing that now, finally, he was determined to write only "happy 
poems." But that was a great trouble it was so very much 
more difficult to write a poem happy in sentiment rather than 
tragic and still manage to have it come out believable and 
good. He was absorbed in this notion, I could see, but also 
troubled. Implicitly, he was saying what many of his poems 
had already said: that his wisdom was the perception of joy 
an insight so comprehensive and instantaneous that the mean- 
ing of joy is defined not as a relative state of human emotion 
but as another name for life itself. Yet there was little joy in his 

[ 127 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

face as he thumbed hesitantly through a clutter of unfinished 
manuscripts, and little conviction in his voice as he spoke of his 
writing plans. At last, as if to conclude our visit, he said that his 
aim now was to produce "poems in praise of God's world by a 
man who doesn't believe in God." 

Stepping out of the shack into twilight, we went into the 
village to the hotel to drink bitter in Ivy Williams's kitchen 
and play nap with her and two villagers who dropped by. 
This was a card game; our stakes were big black pennies; a 
winning hand seldom resulted in a gain of more than sixpence. 
When we had played for about an hour, Caitlin came in. She 
had been across the street to visit Dylan's parents who, she 
reported to the company, were outspoken in praise for 
"Dylan's nice American friends." They had naturally ex- 
pected that Americans would be coarse and loud, she said, 
but felt that these two were "gentlemen." Still uneasy in the 
circumstances of the week end, I was more pleased that 
Caitlin should want to repeat the sentiment than by the 
sentiment itself. 

Dylan was reluctant to leave the card table, but after some 
urging Caitlin got him to leave the game and start for home. It 
was late evening, calm and starlit, when we reached the 
Boat House. Dylan said he was too sleepy for supper. Since 
Bill and I were departing early in the morning, we said 
good-by to him with some mention of a possible meeting a 
few days hence in London or a few weeks hence in Paris. After 
shaking hands with us in the sad-eyed, apologetic, winning 
way with which I was now familiar, he went off to bed. Sitting 
down to our final meal with Caitlin, Bill and I were appre- 
hensive, but we need not have been. We soon talked at ease 
in the blue glow of the grate fire; Caitlin even spoke of coming 

t 128 i 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

to America, as if that was what she most had had in mind all 

Next morning we were up at five. Caitlin gave us toast and 
tea, and in a warm farewell that seemed to cancel all our mu- 
tual misgivings, we carried our bags up the stony garden path 
and waved to her from the high gate. A hired car was waiting 
for us at the end of the sea wall. We drove through shining 
morning mist to Carmarthen and boarded a train for London. 

I recorded my talk for the BBC at Broadcasting House on 
the following day, and later spoke with Dylan by phone. He 
felt quite confident now that Caitlin would agree to come to 
America in the late winter, and told me to go full speed ahead 
in making engagements at the Poetry Center and elsewhere. 
The main idea this time would not be to make money to bring 
back to Wales, but to earn just enough in reading fees to keep 
them comfortably in their travels and to allow them one full 
free month in a place that was sure to be warm, perhaps Flor- 
ida, perhaps California. 

I sent him letters from Italy, where I stayed until early Sep- 
tember, and found an answer from him at American Express in 
Paris just before I sailed for home: 


A very brief note of apology and affection. Your letter, 
waiting for me in John Davenport's, I mislaid, and now 
don't know where you'll be or when, for a moment, you 
may come to London. But from your littler letter I see 
you will call at the American Express, Paris, around Sept. 
1-4. I do hope this will find you then. And I am so sorry 
that I couldn't get up to London after you left Laugharne, 
and that I lost your letter, and that I haven't written. 
I've been in a mess about money, and, in London, about 

Dylan Thomas in America 

trying to fix a film-job for the winter. Caitlin has mumps, 
badly, and oh! oh! oh! I'm vague and distressed about 
me and poems and Laugharne and London and the 
States. But, of course, I'll be there for the Columbia date 
on January 30. I hope, very much, we can meet in Lon- 
don before you return: I want to ask you about these 
dates, about what sort of poetry you think I should read, 
what kind of prose I should write for the several occa- 
sions. Also, I should very much like to see you again, 
before next January. 

I hope you didn't have too muddled a time down here. 
Regards to Bill. 

Please write soon, if ever you get this, and I'll write 
back fully. 

Try to make London. 

Caitlin sends you her love. And I send mine. 


Much as it would have pleased me to meet him in Lon- 
don, I had to hold to my sailing reservation from Cherbourg in 
order to be home in time for the beginning of my classes at the 
University of Connecticut. Before I sailed I sent him a note, 
promising to take up at length all the bothersome matters in 
which I might be helpful just as soon as I was back at my desk. 
While I subsequently sent him several such letters from Cam- 
bridge, where I had taken an apartment after giving up my 
house in Westport, I heard nothing at all from Dylan until 
early in December. His letter came from a new address, in 
Camden Town, a crowded poor district of London. During 
my visit to Wales, I remembered, there had been some talk of 
their moving up to London, mainly to spare Caitlin the rigors 
of another winter in wet cold Laugharne, but of this I had 
heard nothing further. 

> 1951 June, 1952 

54 Delancey Street, 

Camden Town, 

London, N.W. i 



Your letter just forwarded from Laugharne to our new 
London house of horror on bus and nightlorry route and 
opposite railway bridge and shunting station. No herons 

Your letter, just read, has scared the lights out of me. 

First date in N.Y. January 23rd? I'll have to look lively. I'll 

also have to look like hell for money ( 100) to keep girl 

and family here while Caitlin and I are junketting abroad. 

Questions and answers: 

(1) How long do we plan to stay? Between two and 
three months. 

(2) Do we want to confine our movements to east and 
middle west or do we also want to go to the west coast? 
We certainly want to go to California, after the other 
dates you have arranged. Ruth Witt-Diamant, of San 
Francisco, has recently written asking us the same ques- 
tion, or roughly the same. She says she will, given due 
warning, be able to arrange some San Francisco read- 
ings. I am sure that Hunter Lewis, of B.C. University, 
Vancouver, would also invite me again. He said so in 
a letter this year. 

(3) I don't think Florida for a month. A Calif ornian 
month (or less) for us after New York. And then New 
York at the end again. I would, incidentally, like to go 
to Washington. Would that club like me again? The 
shirtless Biddies have invited Caitlin and me to stay 
with them there. 

(4) Yes, yes, yes. I do want you please to be my guide 
and agent. 

On to other things. Oscar Williams, in his last letter to 
me, said that a group of mid-western Universities were 

Dylan Thomas in America 

getting together to invite me for a jolly week with them 
at a figure like one thousand dollars. He did mention mid- 
February, but I see that that now conflicts with my pre- 
arranged New York commitments. I shall write to him to- 
day; but do you think you could also get in touch with 
him and find out if the date if it is a real date can be 
moved to end of February or first of March. Then we 
could go on to S. Francisco in March sometime. I could 
leave Caitlin there while I went anywhere else on Pacific 
Coast where I was invited. 

The Socialist Party in New York City have written to 
me to ask for a poetry reading. They say they're a small 
body (like me) and can't pay much at all, but I would 
like to do it for them if you can arrange it. 

Next things you want to know: 

1 i ) Visa. I haven't got one yet. My passport is left in 
Laugharne, and I will try to go down and get it at the 
end of this week. Before I get the visa, I am almost 
certain to need as before papers from you ex- 
plaining the purpose of my visit to the States and in- 
stancing some of my more worthy-looking engage- 
ments. Perhaps, if easily and quickly obtained by you, 
a letter from Columbia to you about me, from the Cen- 
ter and from anywhere important else, would consider- 
ably help. Anyway, let me have some official papers of 
confirmation to show the scared baiters in power here. 

(2) I have made no ship reservations for Cat and me, 
not knowing when I was due in New York. I'll try to 
do this this week early, following your instructions 
about getting the steamship line to have their New 
York office contact you at once at Poetry Center for 

( 3 ) Caitlin will be coming with me, but not the baby. 
(4) It's okay to say to the New School I'll do them a 
second programme of dramatic readings. 
Now to my questions. What sort of poetry, d'you think, 
most of my sponsors would like me to read? Modern? 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

Including modern American, or is that presumptuous? 
Blake, Keats, Donne, Hopkins, Owen? And what about 
'dramatic excerpts? Marlowe, Shakespeare, Webster, 
Tourneur, Beddoes? Do tell me what, from your previous 
experience of "my audience," they most would like from 
me. I don't want to read too much of my own, except for 
a few recent ones. Laughlin, by the way, is bringing out 
a pamphlet of new poems for my visit. 

What news of Sarah? I hope, God bless her, she's in 

How are you? How goes Sidney G.? He was moaning 
for weeks about his companions, Raine and Gascoyne. 
"Och, there'll be wee orgies with those two sparocks." 

I'll get this off straightaway, without any news or af- 
fection; and will see about steamer bookings and visas 
very quickly. 

Please you write quickly, too; and do let me know your 
suggestions as to the contents of my programmes. And 
do do something about West Coast. That's what Caitlin 
wants most. 


P.S. Mebbe, after all, a bit of Florida would be good, if 
possible. Miami? Gainesville first, and then Miami? 
P. P.S. A very important point I forgot. If we're to spend 
one whole month in New York in an hotel, we'll be des- 
perately broke. Is there anyone who would put us up for, 
say, a week while we look around for someone else to put 
us up for the next week, and so on? It's really important. 
The money I earn we want for the sights, not for board. 
Can you delicately hint around? 

P.P.P.S. I'm writing today to Ruth Witt-Diamant, but 
perhaps you could write as well to see what, if anything, 
she has done. 


[ 133 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Encouraged by this unusually businesslike letter, free at last 
from doubts that he might not come to America at all, I went 
ahead to line up a long series of engagements that would take 
him from coast to coast While correspondence for this took a 
great amount of time and led me into a maze of paperwork 
from which, at times, I felt I would never emerge, it was not 
unrewarding. I was warmed to find that everyone wanted to 
hear Dylan read, and that I had but to mention that he was 
coming, to someone in Washington, perhaps, or Missouri or 
New Hampshire, in order to put arrangements into motion. 
Within a month, having meanwhile reported to him on the 
progress of my activities, I received another letter. 

6 January 1952 

Thank you for your two letters, official and not. 

Thomas Cook have just written to me to say you've 
paid for Caitlin's and my passage on the Queen Mary on 
January 15. Thank you. I only hope to the Lord I can 
make it. The difficulty is over my visa. The American 
Consulate would not revalidate it until they had "inves- 
tigated" me. They're presumably in the process of doing 
that now. The snag seemed to be a visit I paid to Prague 
in 1949 the year before I came to the States last. I'm 
hoping to get the visa this week. Do you know anyone 
important your end who'd say a word to the Embassy, or 
Consulate, that I'm not a dangerous Red? I'll be seeing 
a British Foreign Office man myself tomorrow. But per- 
haps everything will work out okay. It's just that there's 
such very little time. If the worst comes to the worst, and 
my visa is- withheld after the isth, I'll cable. Ill cable 
you, anyway, if the Queen Mary sails with us. Will you 
meet us? Please? 

Any hope of accommodation yet or should we stay 

[ 134 i 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

in a hotel for the first part of our visit? Heard from Ruth 
Witt-Diamant about possible Californian readings? 

I must read Lear again: haven't looked at it for years. 

I enclose a letter from McGill University, Montreal. 
This letter seems, to me, to mean that McGill is prepared 
to transport me (I suppose at a good fee) all the way 
from Wales to Montreal. And (I suppose) back. They 
seem to know nothing about my coming to the States in 
January. So: as my transportation from New York to 
Montreal will be so much less than from Wales to Mont- 
real, the fee, surely, must be commensurately (or pro- 
portionately, I don't know the words) increased. I've 
written to Storrs McCall saying, "Yes, delighted," and that 
I'd be in New York the end of January. I told him that 
you would be getting in touch with him as you, and you 
only, knew what my New York commitments were, and 
when. Will you write to him, quickly? And as I don't 
particularly want to go to Montreal, soak McGill for 
twice (at least) as much as I get in the States plus, of 
course, full expenses by air. 

I'll be cabling you. Keep your fingers crossed for us. 

I'm looking forward, a lot, to seeing you. And I hope 
I can. 

Cat got her visa straightaway. 


I sent a quick reply, asking Dylan to be sure to cable me as 
soon as visa difficulties were overcome and their departure as- 
sured. If they did manage to get aboard the Queen Mary on 
the scheduled date, I would, I promised, meet them in New 
York with a red carpet. I heard nothing until January i6th, 
the day after their scheduled sailing, when the following radio- 
gram from the Queen Mary arrived: SEE YOU PIER 90 SUNDAY 


[ 135 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

On Sunday the twentieth, I got up at dawn, drove from 
Boston to New York and arrived at Pier 90 with a small square 
of royal red carpet and a box of gardenias. The Queen Mary 
was just being edged into her berth. Without a visitor's permit 
that would have allowed me to join them at baggage examina- 
tion, I waited in the crowd pressing against wooden barriers 
outside the waiting room. David Loug6e and Stanley Moss, 
also on hand to welcome the Thomases, joined me. After two 
cold hours of waiting, we finally sighted them Dylan in the 
great bulky brown parka that gave him the appearance of an 
errant koala bear, Caitlin looking like a character out of Anna 
Karenina in a black fur hat, carrying a big fur muff, and wear- 
ing fur-tipped boots. After general embracing in the noisy daze 
of the Pier, the presentation of a box of Dylan's favorite ci- 
gars from David, and my welcoming carpet and gardenias, we 
arranged to have their bags and trunk taken care of, and put 
them into a taxi. 

It was my plan, readily agreed to by Dylan and Caitlin, to 
take them into the country for a couple of days to Millbrook, 
New York, where we would stay with my friend Rollie Mc- 
Kenna, the photographer, and where we could at leisure go 
over details of the new reading tour. But first we had to have a 
drink to welcome Caitlin to America; we converged on the 
bar of the Winslow Hotel, on Madison Avenue. Through all of 
this Caitlin was almost totally silent. When she did speak, 
she said she felt dizzy, and I sensed that she was a little fright- 
ened. Dylan seemed in bright-eyed good health, chuckling and 
beaming, in spite of his having been seasick for nearly three 
days. Toward Caitlin he was sensitively deferential and solicit- 
ous in a way I had not previously observed. Aware, perhaps, 
of her lack of ease in being shunted so swiftly into America and 

[ 136 i 

July, iQ^iJune, 1952 

into a group of strangers who were Dylan's friends, he showed 
every sign that his first thoughts were of her. It was the only 
time I had ever seen them together when the amenities of a 
husband-and-wife relationship were apparent. While his open 
concern for her to be happy in what she saw and in whom she 
met was almost childishly intense, this attitude showed him in 
a most attractive new light. My experience in Laugharne had 
led me, at times, to face their coming to America with dread. It 
was a relief now to see them so transformed, and I hoped for 
the best. 

Caitlin's first question as we sat in the darkly mirrored light 
of the Winslow Bar was, "Is this a posh bar?" We could only say 
no, not really, that we had chosen it because it was convenient 
and uncrowded. For the rest of the hour she was content sim- 
ply to listen to the conversation which, once the wave of 
welcome had passed over, became rather spiritless. 

Taking leave of the group, we got in my car, headed toward 
the West Side Highway and drove out of the city under wintry 
slate-gray skies. Dylan pointed out the sights of Riverside Drive 
to Caitlin with an almost proprietary sense of New York. She 
looked upon them with a bemused air but said little. Halfway 
to Millbrook we stopped at a rustic tavern decorated indis- 
criminately with touches of Indian and woodsmen's d6cor. 
Dylan went directly toward the jukebox with a handful of 
nickels, ordered super-hamburgers for himself and Caitlin, 
and made sure that she noticed all of the decorations the 
Navajo rugs, the deer's heads, the rough-hewn beams and* 
the red-spoked wagon-wheels. She was astonished at the size 
of the hamburgers, charmed by the enveloping music and the 
stagey decor of the place, and said she was at last beginning 
to feel that she was in America. 

Dylan Thomas in America 

As we continued on in early dusk through a rolling land- 
scape that showed patches of a recent snowstorm, Caitlin 
smoked constantly and played the car radio, a gadget which 
seemed to delight her. I learned that they had been commis- 
sioned to do a book of impressions of America, that they had 
been advanced a considerable sum of money for this, and that 
Caitlin, rather than Dylan, was going to do most of the work by 
keeping a careful day-by-day journal. When I asked about his 
parents, Dylan said that he was worried about his father who, 
he felt, was now failing rapidly. I showed them photographs 
Bill Read and I had taken in Laugharne; Caitlin was espe- 
cially happy with those of Colm and asked me if she might be 
able to get a dozen copies. Both of them spoke with dislike of 
their house in Camden town, and said they were glad to be 
out of it for good: on their return they would go directly back 
to Laugharne. But this was still far off, since they had decided 
to stay in America until about the middle of May. 

Now the landscape through which we drove was completely 
covered with snow. We arrived in Millbrook about seven-thirty 
to be greeted by Rollie and a little pack of enthusiastic dogs. 
She led us into a big room glowing with firelight on brass and 
polished leather and set us down to Old-fashioneds. When 
Caitlin shortly disappeared into her room, Dylan and I talked 
a bit about plans and possibilities. He was ready to go every- 
where and anywhere, and told me to put no limit at all on 
the number of engagements he might be able to work into his 
schedule. We had dinner in a room lighted from within by 
candles and, from without, by the dramatic shine of floodlights 
on the snow. Afterwards we listened to Bart6k and New Or- 
leans jazz for a while, and went early to bed. 

We awoke early next morning to unbearably brilliant sun- 

[ 138 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

light reflected on endless fields of snow. As we sat down to 
breakfast about eight, I noticed that Caitlin again wore the 
look of expectation and trepidation I had first noticed on Pier 
90. While she had gradually joined in conversation the previ- 
ous evening, she was now silent again in spite of our attempts 
to draw her into general talk, and soon left us to return to her 
room and get on with her journal. Dylan and I went out of 
doors with Rollie, who was hoping for a portrait of him she 
might include in the gallery of poets the Poetry Center had 
commissioned her to collect. While the dry, searing cold and 
winds that knifed about the house and barns could only be 
endured for minutes at a time, Dylan was a good subject and 
a patient one. The finest photograph of that morning shows 
him wound in the bare branches of a heavy vine that climbed 
the front of the house. We went yelping back to the fire then, 
gradually warming up as we drank beer out of cans and talked 
in a random way of all that was ahead of us. 

Since the day was so beautifully bright, we decided to drive 
out into the snowy landscape for lunch somewhere. Dylan 
wanted to know if there was a Howard Johnson restaurant 
nearby. He felt Caitlin should be introduced to that particular 
aspect of America. Since there was one on the outskirts of 
Poughkeepsie, only fifteen miles away, we drove there at once 
to eat frankforts, hamburgers and several of the twenty-six 
chromatic varieties of ice cream. The restaurant was only half 
a mile from the Vassar College campus. Since Rollie was an 
alumna and I, as a former teacher there, had my own associa- 
tions with the place, we felt we should take the opportunity of 
introducing Caitlin to her first American college. We drove 
like spies through the winding roads of the campus, almost 
hoping to be spotted and hailed by one of the more alert 

[ 139 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

English "majors." If my memory of Vassar enthusiasm for 
Dylan was true, his presence there, if discovered, would have 
provoked a riot. But we edged through the chilled, blue-jeaned 
multitudes without being recognized. Caitlin was outraged by 
the costumes of the Vassar girls and could not accept our ex- 
planations about the collegiate fad of the casual. "Ridiculous!" 
she said. "They look like intellectual witches." 

We drove on to Hyde Park for a distant sight of the Roose- 
velt estate and a visit to the Vanderbilt Mansion. But when 
the latter was CLOSED ON MONDAY, as we learned from a sign, 
we retreated to Rhinebeck, to a "coach-house tavern" full of 
horse brasses, decorative harness, and hitching posts serving as 
coat-hangers. Caitlin played the jukebox and Dylan the pin- 
ball machine between drinks, and we drove in good spirits 
back to Millbrook where Caitlin disappeared until mid- 
evening, presumably to work on her journal, the demands of 
which at this mere threshold of her visit seemed curiously 

Rollie had invited to dinner old friends of hers and mine, a 
husband and wife who were both professors. When they ar- 
rived in the early evening Caitlin remained in her room while 
we had cocktails. Dylan was affable, outgoing, easily monopo- 
lizing conversation with a flow of sometimes hilarious self- 
deprecatory remarks and stories. When Caitlin finally de- 
scended some time after eight o'clock, she acknowledged her 
introduction to the guests, then took a chair in a corner of the 
room and sat silently drawing caricatures of the company. 
Now and then she would take Dylan aside to whisper some- 
thing to him, but otherwise seemed to want to remain with- 
drawn. To break the spell of ill-ease brought on by her refusal 
to join us, I put some records on the turntable and asked her 

[ 140 ] 

July, iggiJune, 1952 

if she would care to dance. She accepted without hesitation 
and put down her drawings. We pushed the bearskin rug away 
from the fireplace and danced on the waxed-brick flooring. 
The others, including Dylan, followed suit, and we were more 
or less of one spirit when, after half an hour of assorted fox- 
trots, rhumbas and waltzes, we sat down to dinner. Dylan was 
full of stories during the meal, but could relate few of them 
without interruptions from Caitlin who now, it seemed to me, 
was fully self-possessed in a situation she relished. She offered 
corrected versions of his narratives, stoutly denied the truth of 
some of them altogether, and otherwise managed in nearly 
every case to have the final say. When Dylan asked a serious 
question about some aspect of teaching at the college where 
our friend was chairman of the history department, he was 
being answered seriously when Caitlin intruded with: "And 
are they all stuffed shirts like yourself?" Everyone pretended 
not to have heard this and Dylan took off on another story as 
we went back to the fireplace for coffee. During the rest of 
the evening Caitlin again stayed in her retreat in a corner of the 
room, drawing new caricatures, then fingering, preoccupied, 
through a stack of fashion magazines. After our friends left 
about midnight, I said good-by to her and Dylan, promising 
to meet them in New York two days later. 

They drove into Manhattan with Rollie the next day and 
took a room at the Hotel Earle. When I joined them there, our 
first item of business was to find a suitable apartment for their 
stay in the city. But we made little progress in looking into this 
problem because both Dylan and Caitlin were wan and shaky 
from a disastrous evening before. They had, I learned with 
something not far from stupefaction, been to dinner with 
Dylan's old inamorata, Doris, and her husband, and things had 

Dylan Thomas in America 

gone badly so badly that when the meal was over Doris lay 
in a state of collapse in her boudoir. Taking leave of the non- 
plussed lawyer, who had finally achieved his desire of meet- 
ing the poet who had caused a rather marked hiatus in his 
marriage, they had made a round of village bars until well on 
into the morning. As we were lackadaisically discussing ways 
and means, Loren Maclver and Lloyd Frankenberg came by. 
We all went out together then, bought half a dozen newspa- 
pers in which to peruse classified advertisements, and stopped 
in at a bar on Sixth Avenue. Taking turns phoning to inquire 
about advertised possibilities, we turned up discouragingly 
few. Finally someone remembered that the Hotel Chelsea 
had one-room kitchenette apartments. Loren went along with 
Caitlin to inspect one of them, and they returned shortly to 
say that it looked like just the thing. Dylan said they could 
move in that very evening. 

I felt they were well launched into their American adventure 
now, and I hoped that they had some real sense of the plans 
I had outlined to them. In any case, I resolved to see them only 
when practical matters of money and schedule made meeting 
necessary at least until opportunities arose when I could 
again see them on terms more propitious to friendship. I en- 
joyed being with them, in spite of my feeling that a long time 
would elapse before Caitlin and I could meet in mutual confi- 
dence. But on the days when Dylan had no schedule to follow, 
our time was apt to pass in a maundering series of barroom 
visits. Dylan seemed to enjoy gregariousness for its own sake. 
While I could not be sure of Caitlin's reaction to a constant 
circle of strangers, she seldom refused to accompany Dylan on 
the daily junkets in which he crisscrossed the Village. But 
long days of this tended to wear me out, caused me to neglect 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

appointments and to fall behind in my work. During the next 
week or so, I dropped in at the Chelsea a couple of times, but 
only to fill in some new page of Dylan's travel diary, or to 
supply them with money which, inevitably, but rather too soon 
for the resources of my pocketbook, had again become a pri- 
mary problem. Since they had arrived penniless, their pub- 
lisher's advance having been spent to take care of matters at 
home, I had supplied the few hundred dollars they felt would 
be needed to see them through the period when Dylan would 
be earning nothing. This sum vanished within two or three 
days. Caught short of cash, I was able to give them only 
seventy-five dollars one evening, promising to turn up at lunch 
the next day with more. By that time the seventy-five dollars 
had vanished too. Curious as to how that amount could have 
been spent between late afternoon of one day and lunch of the 
next, especially when they knew that I was now as penniless 
as they, I asked Dylan what had happened to it. He said he 
was puzzled himself. They had gone out to dinner with a small 
group, but he could not remember if he or someone else had 
paid the bill. In any case, the money was gone and they were 
again flat broke. Since I had paid the Chelsea Hotel bill for a 
month in advance, I was able to cash my own university salary 
check with the management and to leave them newly sup- 
plied. But this little episode had made me fearful. Dylan was 
due to make a substantial sum of money on the coming tour, 
but if their living was to cost, as it already had, one hundred 
dollars per day, even several engagements a week would not 
bring in enough to see them through. 

On the night before his first reading, I came by at Dylan's 
somewhat nervous insistence to discuss the choice of poems he 
would read. Caitlin, in negligee, worked on her journal which, 

Dylan Thomas in America 

I noted, was already voluminous. Still not having recovered 
from a day-long hangover, Dylan was in bed. We spread out 
a sheaf of poems on the bed-covers and, one by one, made a 
selection and fixed them in reading order. When I called for 
him the next night, I found him blue, sober, petrified anew at 
the thought of having to face an audience. We taxied uptown, 
Caitlin silent, Dylan writhing, wishing it were all over with, 
asking for my assurance that we had chosen the right poems, 
wishing we could stop for one final drink. The Poetry Center 
auditorium was packed, with a crowd milling about the box 
office hoping for last-minute cancellations. Just before program 
time, Dylan asked for beer, and a bottle was brought in by one 
of the ushers. I was standing beside him and Caitlin in the 
darkened wings, and was about to step onto the stage to intro- 
duce him, when I heard Caitlin say, "J us * remember, they're all 
dirt!" While she probably meant this as a kind of encourage- 
ment, Dylan took exception to the remark and countered with 
something I could not hear. A whispered, high-pitched argu- 
ment ensued, but the next minute Dylan was on stage. A roar of 
applause that seemed as if it would never die down kept him 
standing, beaming, nodding humbly for nearly two minutes. 
Besides a group of his own new poems, his program that night 
included selections from Louis MacNeice, William Plomer, 
D. H. Lawrence, Edith Sitwell, W. H. Auden, W. B. Yeats and 
his own hilarious imitation of T. S. Eliot's voice in a reading of 
Henry Reed's parody of "Four Quartets," a poem entitled 
"Chard Whitlow." 

Somewhere in this series of brief, harried visits, I had at 
Caitlin's request promised to spend a day with her and Dylan 
when we could forget all about schedules and engagements 
and simply look at some of the sights of New York. Her own 

[ 144 ] 

John Malcolm Brinntn 


July, 1951 June, 1952 

movements, she said, had been almost wholly confined to 
Twenty-third Street, except when she and Dylan went out to a 
Village bar or were escorted to a party somewhere. Finally, a 
likely day arrived, and I joined them at the Chelsea on a 
bright, cold morning, ready to follow their inclinations. After 
a stroll into the Village that left our hands and ears nipped 
with cold, we went on Dylan's suggestion to the White Horse 
Tavern on Hudson Street, for lunch. This place, to which Eng- 
lish friends had introduced him, had become his favorite ren- 
dezvous, much to the pleasure of its proprietor, who found his 
business doubled by the many people friends and mere "ar- 
dents" who would assemble there at all hours in the chance 
that Dylan might turn up. This wave of prosperity at "the 
Horse," as it came to be called, was to continue until Dylan's 

We stayed drinking at the White Horse which, in dcor and 
atmosphere, is very likely as close an approximation to a Lon- 
don pub as any other bar in New York, until midafternoon. By 
this time, whatever appetite for mere sightseeing either Dylan 
or Caitlin might have set out with had become quite dissi- 
pated. We decided, rather wanly, to go to the Radio City 
Music Hall. After sitting through an interminable movie about 
the circus, our spirits picked up with the appearance of the 
robotlike Rockettes. Dylan marveled, like any small-town tour- 
ist, at the inhuman precision of their movements, and even 
seemed to enjoy the rest of a gigantically florid presentation, 
including a scene in which scores of madly enthusiastic male 
singers descended from a ring of covered wagons to sing cow- 
boy ballads around a campfire. 

Then Caitlin said she would like to see the Rainbow Room; 
we went there to watch the lights of the skyscrapers in the 

Dylan Thomas in America 

early dark. But it had already been apparent for hours that 
there was no gaiety in our freedom of the city. Caitlin, only 
mildly participating in the outing she had herself suggested, 
seemed preoccupied, or shy, or in any case unwilling to give 
herself to our entertainments, or to this rare chance to be com- 
fortably by ourselves. Dylan, continuously solicitous of her, 
nevertheless seemed not committed to this sort of tourist 
activity. A cocktail lounge was not his element and, even for 
Caitlin's sake, he could not disguise his restlessness to be some- 
where else. When we stared down upon the fantastic lighted 
canyons, I realized sadly, almost hopelessly, that I was the only 
one who was interested, and that the lack of pleasure either 
Dylan or Caitlin showed was only to be expected. I felt like a 
museum guide who, enraptured by the painting he has been 
discussing, turns to find his audience gone. 

As we were on our way toward the elevators, Dylan's name 
was called out, and we turned to find Arthur Koestler motion- 
ing us to a table where he was entertaining two friends. Caitlin 
was now outspokenly impatient to get on; we joined them only 
briefly. Dylan and Koestler exchanged gossip of mutual 
friends abroad, spoke with a professional toleration of the rig- 
ors of lecture-tour life, and then of the unique vertical beauty 
of New York at this hour. As we were getting up to leave, 
Koestler asked us all to come to his house in New Jersey for the 
following week end. Dylan readily accepted the invitation and 
we said good-by. In the crowded elevator, Caitlin said angrily 
that she had no intention of going to Arthur Koestler's for the 
week end. Dylan said he hadn't either, but what else could he 
do but accept? Above the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink, I 
parted from them as we took separate cabs to separate ap- 
pointments. I wondered again if we three would ever be able 

t i 4 6 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

to spend more than an hour's time together without being over- 
taken by the disharmony we felt, the causes of which we could 
not or would not name. 

Next afternoon, I again helped Dylan to make a selection 
and arrangement of poems for the night's reading at the Poetry 
Center. Caitlin had gone out shopping with a new friend, Rose 
Slivka, but had assured Dylan that she would be in the audi- 
ence. Dinner was out of the question for Dylan, in spite of his 
not having had a morsel all day. Instead, and as usual, we set- 
tled for a few glasses of beer in a Twenty-third Street bar. Our 
taxi ride uptown was again an anxious and unhappy progress 
as Dylan huddled into himself one minute, and overdrama- 
tized his distress the next. But his reading was superb, evoking 
a crescendo of applause and a chorus of bravos, and he had to 
return to the stage for two encores. 

When he had politely pushed his way through a horde of 
autograph seekers in the reception lounge, we were joined by 
Caitlin and Rose, and an acquaintance who, having had 
Dylan's promise to join him after the reading, piloted us all to 
a little Greek night club in midtown. There, in a twanging 
din of exotic instruments that made the slightest conversation 
impossible, and from a long table made up of whoever had fol- 
lowed us from the Poetry Center, we watched Attic folk-danc- 
ers. After a quick, probably pointless conference with Dylan in 
the cloakroom the only part of the establishment where 
we could hear one another I left to take a train for Boston. 

With many people interested in entertaining them, and still 
greater numbers seeking to be entertained by them, Dylan 
and Caitlin were now guests of honor at one or more parties 

[ 147 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

almost every night of the week. Caitlin spent a good part of 
every day wandering between Twenty-third and Thirty-fourth 
Streets, shopping for clothing and presents for the children as 
Dylan, quite on his own, drifted back into his old day-long 
routine of Village bars. While money was not being spent at 
the rate of one hundred dollars per day, the amount I turned 
over to them at their request was frequently very little less. In 
spite of her long hours moseying about in the shops, Caitlin's 
purchases were comparatively few. On one occasion, as we 
were waiting for Dylan somewhere, she said she wanted to 
buy a portable radio for Llewelyn. The one she had in mind 
cost thirty-five dollars, she said, but Dylan felt this was ex- 
travagant and that they could not afford it. She wondered if I 
would give her the money without telling Dylan about it. I 
agreed, and this was to be our secret along with other 
amounts I might give her, especially in those periods when 
Dylan's absence from New York left her without funds to buy 
clothing or gifts. 

With engagements in Washington, Baltimore, Montreal and 
upper New York State, Dylan was continually in and out of 
the city now. Money had begun to come in fairly large sums, 
much to the relief of my own hard-pressed bank account 
which, more than once, had to be supplemented with per- 
sonal loans I would make and then turn over to Dylan. 

One morning when I dropped by to deliver some railroad 
tickets, written travel directions and a big new roll of ten- and 
twenty-dollar bills, I found Dylan in a state of almost immo- 
bile wretchedness. Supine on his bed, he was able to speak 
only in grunts and whines, punctuated by profane sighs and 
anguished moanings about the condition of his head. Caitlin 
worked on her journal as I made ineffectual attempts to get 

[ 148 ] 

July, i 95 iJune, 1952 

his mind on something besides his hangover. As we sat there 
in a sort of sickbed trance, the phone rang. Pulling himself up 
on one elbow, Dylan took the phone Caitlin handed to him. 
All at once his manner was comparatively bright and, I could 
see, deferential and cooperative. Then he put down the 
phone and slumped back onto the bed. "It's a girl from Time. 
She wants an interview and I told her to come 'round. Oh, 
God, I can't do it! I don't want to do it!" Caitlin looked up 
from her writing. "Let Brinnin meet her downstairs and tell 
her you're too sick." "No," he said, "I'll go through with the 
bloody business. It's Time, after all." I suggested I might ar- 
range another date for him, but Dylan turned this down. In a 
few minutes she would be at the bar on the corner. "Cat," he 
said plaintively, "you'll come with me? She'll take us to lunch. 
John? You'll come?" "If you want me to." "You both come 
she'll give us a posh lunch on Time magazine." I helped him 
into his clothes and he went off to meet the interviewer, a 
Miss Berlin who, I learned later, was the daughter of Irving 
Berlin, at the appointed bar. Caitlin and I joined them there 
shortly. Darkly pretty, with uneasily observant eyes, Miss 
Berlin asked few questions during our first minutes together 
but simply joined us in having Tom Collinses Dylan brought 
from the bar to the booth in which we sat. She asked us 
where we would like to have lunch. Since, beforehand, we 
had agreed that Cavanagh's, only a block away, would be the 
happiest choice, we set off, Dylan stopping on the sidewalk 
to cough himself out of a paroxysm once or twice. We were 
elegantly ushered to the bar of the restaurant and, after a 
short wait, to a table. 

There Miss Berlin became earnest: one question followed 
another. In a curiously giddy mood, Dylan began replying to 

[ 149 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

these with a series of parodies of himself. No one who did not 
know him intimately would possibly have been able to sepa- 
rate fact from outrageous fiction. Nonplussed, Miss Berlin 
turned to me for corroboration or denials of some of his fan- 
cier flights. I felt I could only assent to the truth of every- 
thing he said, in the assumption that it was safer and more 
amusing to let him blow his little bubbles of nonsense than to 
intervene with the few sober facts I might supply. But I soon 
sensed that something in the situation had wakened in Dylan 
the old determination to reduce to absurdity everything on 
which the conversation touched. Some of his statements, ut- 
terly untrue, were of a nature to provide very spicy copy for 
the pages of any magazine. Thinking of possible conse- 
quences, and of the frankness which is sometimes one of the 
pleasures of Time, I began to be alarmed. I was not alone in 
this. Caitlin had begun openly to scold Dylan and not, this 
time, I realized, only because he was being cavalier and skit- 
tish in an essentially serious situation. At least one of the de- 
tails of his life that he had already stated as truth intimately 
concerned her, and its implications were far more scandalous 
than possibly amusing. Since Miss Berlin now seemed to be 
accepting almost everything at face value, with but momen- 
tary and wordless appeals to me, I attempted to bring some 
balance into the situation. "Dylan's in his naughty mood," I 
said. "If you'd like to talk with me later perhaps I can help 
you to separate some of the fact from the fiction." I felt this 
was not enough to allay Miss Berlin's bewilderment, but soon, 
apparently realizing that conventional interviewing tech- 
niques would not do in this case, she gave up her professional 
approach and we settled down to our expensive lunch. While 
I wondered in some apprehension just what part of this 

[ 150 i 

July, igsiJune, 1952 

fanciful autobiography would find its way into Time, my fears 
were groundless. No word of it ever appeared there. 

My meetings with Dylan and Caitlin now occurred just 
once a week, when I went to New York for Poetry Center 
duties. We would go out to lunch, usually, but these occa- 
sions were never happy because I was always witness to 
some new chagrin I could not understand, and because I was 
always forced into being partisan toward some contention of 
Dylan's or Caitlin's in regard to which I was either genuinely 
indifferent or unwilling to commit myself. More than once I 
had to leave the luncheon table with attacks of migraine, the 
first signs of which Caitlin had learned to detect almost as 
soon as I could. Dylan was invariably harassed and depressed, 
always trying to outlive just one more hangover, always 
caught in details of some appointment he did not want to 
keep, or had all but forgotten. But the unhappiest develop- 
ment of their visit had come about through loud and stormy 
scenes at parties where their private marital war had been 
needlessly opened to public view. I had witnessed one of 
these myself at an evening party, given in their honor. After 
watching their skirmishes, incredulous guests had abruptly de- 
parted from rooms littered with smashed glasses, overturned 
tables and broken objets d'art, leaving their hostess in a state 
of hysteria as she contemplated her loss, part of which was a 
plaster section of the wall of her bedroom. When it became 
apparent that, for the Thomases, the scene of a party was but 
a likely new arena for mayhem, many potential hosts and 
hostesses quietly dropped their plans for entertaining the 
distinguished visitors. 

As far as I could see, their only comparatively happy times 
in America so far were those few expectant hours following 

Dylan Thomas in America 

their disembarkation from the Queen Mary. Certainly they 
had not found here release from pressure and responsibility, 
or whatever it was between them that made their friends 
feel they held one another in a death-grip. Instead, their free- 
dom to enjoy new experiences, new people, and perhaps a 
new sense of one another seemed only to have aggravated 
their old dilemma. Statements they had made to me or, for 
that matter, to anyone within earshot, proved their marriage 
was essentially a state of rivalry. Yet they must have known 
themselves what was apparent to others: that victory for 
either party could only lead to defeat for both. Nevertheless, 
the lengths to which each would go to find, or to press, an 
advantage was sometimes puerile, sometimes absurd, often in- 
tolerable to contemplate. To begin to understand Caitlin's re- 
sentful unhappiness, one would have to acknowledge her 
feeling that Dylan's great success in America had become just 
one more weight on the cross she had to bear. 

Perhaps, I thought rather groundlessly, we would be more 
congenially together when they came to stay with me in Cam- 
bridge, where we could meet at leisure, and possibly find our 
way back to the comparative good feeling and intimacy of 
our first days. At the same time, having seen with my own 
wide eyes the physical and emotional damage in the after- 
math of some of their already famous New York battles, I 
could not entirely put aside a touch of apprehension when I 
thought of them as house guests. 

On the seventh of March, two days after he had read at 
Princeton where, I learned, a cavalcade of motor-cycled 
policemen had sirened Dylan to the lecture hall from his late 
train, I came home to Cambridge to find him and Caitlin 
moved into my apartment for a five- or six-day visit. I had but 

[ 152 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

a few moments in which to greet them before they went off, 
accompanied by Bill Read who escorted them to an audito- 
rium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the 
campus of which my apartment is situated. My mother, who 
had welcomed them in my absence and to whom I had 
carefully reported nothing of their extraordinary behavior in 
New York already found them both delightful. When they 
returned after Dylan's reading, we all sat down to dinner in a 
relaxed mood and Dylan ate probably the first full meal since 
his arrival more than a month previous. I had warned my 
mother that she should not be disappointed when Dylan 
would refuse to touch a morsel of the meal she had been at 
great pains to prepare. As Dylan praised one dish after an- 
other, consumed everything and asked for second helpings, 
she glanced at me as if I were mad. 

The evening's engagement was at the De Cordova Mu- 
seum, in Lincoln, some twenty miles north and west of Bos- 
ton. Caitlin and I delivered Dylan into the care of the director 
of the museum, and then, because she did not care to sit 
through another reading, drove about the snowy suburban 
countryside in darkness. Inevitably, she spoke of Dylan, of 
money troubles and now, of a new dismay, the adulation of 
Americans, which, since it was something she could not cope 
with or begin to understand and would not accept for the 
simple homage it was had loomed up as her inescapable 
and hateful Nemesis. She had come to feel like a camp 
follower in America. For this she blamed both Dylan and rn's 
admirers. Because he merely doled out money to her, she 
said, she never had enough to buy much-needed clothing for 
their children, or to act independently of him in enjoying 
friends and entertainments of her own in New York. As a 

[ 153 l 

Dylan Thomas in America 

consequence she found herself in the same abhorrent position 
in which she lived at home made worse now that she had 
nothing to do with her time but follow Dylan about and be 
swallowed up and silenced in the crowd surrounding him. 
She spoke calmly, almost winsomely, and, if not in confi- 
dence since she had little gift for that in an obvious trust 
that even my brief experience of her life with Dylan had 
shown me these feelings were justified. As we drove through 
back roads waiting upon Dylan, as it were, at the same 
time that he was spotlighted before new hundreds of applaud- 
ing listeners it was impossible not to feel a sympathetic 
sense of the loneliness out of which she spoke, or not to read 
in her present distress the anguished story of many long 
years. Yet I knew that to go beyond sympathy in trying to 
understand the causes that predestined this unhappiness was 
but to be drawn into an abyss in which extravagance, pov- 
erty, infidelity and a thousand evidences of incompatibility 
were but the surface signs of a fathomless dilemma. 

We returned to the museum in an hour or so and, guided 
by Richard Wilbur, the poet, and his wife, Charlee, drove on 
winding roads over wooded hills to a large house where a 
reception was about to be held. Warmed by whiskies, the late 
gathering soon became a full-fledged party as Dylan, talka- 
tive and bouncing, became its natural center. My newly acute 
awareness of Caitlin's pent-up feelings and suspicions as she 
watched Dylan magnetize every group kept me from par- 
ticipating. While I remained with her a good part of the 
time, trying without success to have her overcome her re- 
sistance to people whom I thought she might enjoy, our talk 
was listless because her attention was always centered on 
the group about Dylan. As he, and a young married woman 

[ 154 ] 

July, igsiJune, 1952 

he had just met for the first time, lingered on the edges of the 
company in a conversation which, obviously, they were both 
enjoying, Caitlin turned to me to ask, "Who is that bitch with 
him now?" I began to tell her exactly who the young woman 
in question was, only to have her interrupt with: "Does Dylan 
sleep with her?" under a suspicion so unreal I knew then 
that nothing I could say would put her at ease, and so gave 
up trying to placate her. With the small zest I could muster, 
I made an attempt to join the party and the gaiety Dylan's 
presence had generated. But Caitlin soon decided it was time 
for us to leave. A suddenly gloomy little trio, we said good 
night. Driving back to Cambridge I was silent, listening to the 
bickering that now seemed to be the only epilogue to eve- 
nings like this. 

The next day, a Saturday, we had planned in a mood of 
naive expectation of which we were still curiously capable 
as another rare "day to ourselves." The morning passed pleas- 
antly and lazily over a long breakfast, and I hoped for the 
best as, a little after noon, we set out for a leisurely explora- 
tion of the North Shore and a sight of the sea. Impeded all 
the way by long lines of traffic, we soon succumbed to the 
grayness of the day and the dreariness of the dirty March 
landscape. All that we had had in mind to see became too 
much effort. After nearly three hours of frustrated milling 
about, we went to a restaurant in Salem for lobster, found 
the place overheated and the service bad, and hurried back o 
Boston. There a happier prospect, at least in Dylan's mind, 
was the early show at the Old Howard. He had told Caitlin 
at length of our previous visits and as we entered the theater 
I had foolishly mounting hopes that the day, in its physical 
discomfort and spiritual edginess so much like the fiasco we 

[ 155 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

had endured on our trip to St. David's Head in Wales, would 
somehow be salvaged. But at the first appearance of one of 
the featured strip-teasers, Caitlin announced, for our ears 
and those of the patrons in several rows about us, that she 
thought the whole thing ridiculous and that she was bored. 
We escorted her out into Scollay Square, Dylan angry and 
mumbling, I disappointed to the edge of desperation by still 
another misguided and useless effort to please her. Drinks at 
two or three of the district's show-bars did nothing to relieve 
the situation as Caitlin, stonier than ever, simply withdrew 
from conversation and stared into space. On the way home to 
the apartment she said she wanted to stop for another drink. 
I suggested a quiet bar in one of the Cambridge hotels, but 
Caitlin wanted nothing elegant just some place where there 
were people and music on the jukebox. I drove them to a 
beer parlor within walking distance of home and left them 

On Sunday morning in the apartment we were lazy over 
newspapers and coffee and conversation that went pleasantly 
nowhere. Caitlin had already struck up a friendship with my 
mother which, along with those she had made with Rose 
Slivka and Rollie McKenna, was as warm as any she was to 
make during her months in America, and which was to con- 
tinue long after. She and my mother talked endlessly, often 
carefully lowering their voices when Dylan and I were within 
earshot. While laughter was the last thing anyone would as- 
sociate with Caitlin, suddenly now she laughed freely and 
often, and seemed to have lost altogether her ambiguous 
air of withdrawal and aggression. Instinctively, it seemed to 
me, she had found in my mother one who would listen with 
sympathy to her side of the long sad story of her life with 

[ 156 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

Dylan. While this was true, it also was true that my mother's 
feeling for Dylan approached adoration. This allowed her to 
forgive by fiat whatever failings of Dylan's that might be re- 
counted to her. Caitlin must have sensed this and it may be 
that her knowledge of my mother's affection for Dylan al- 
lowed her to speak freely of the most intimate aspects of 
their lives together. In any case, their conversation went on 
unceasingly for days in the cozy atmosphere of a perpetual 
tea time, punctuated by long redolent baths, discussions of 
cosmetics and experiments with them, analytical discussions 
of the particular problems of blondes and, eventually, shop- 
ping trips and cocktail hours in the smarter places of Boston. 

The Wilburs had asked me to bring Dylan and Caitlin to 
their house in Lincoln that afternoon. Dylan was pleased to 
go, but Caitlin, t&te-a-tete with my mother across the tea 
table, said she would prefer to stay at home. When we could 
not prevail upon her to change her mind, we left without her, 
spent an entertaining few hours with the Wilburs and re- 
turned to find Caitlin and my mother who, seen from a short 
distance, looked so much alike they might have been taken 
for twins, exactly where they had been when we left. OUT 
return, we could see by their suddenly muted remarks to one 
another, was in the nature of an interruption. 

The staff of the Harvard Advocate, the University's literary 
magazine, was giving a party for the Thomases that evening 
at their headquarters on Bow Street. Again Caitlin said she 
preferred to stay at home. But when Dylan would not hear 
of this she finally consented to come. As soon as we arrived 
they were both immediately swallowed up in a crowd com- 
posed of Harvard and Radcliffe undergraduates and a few 
faculty members. I stayed on the margins of the gathering to 

[ 157 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

chat with a number of acquaintances. After an hour or so in 
the jam-packed room, I turned to find Caitlin moving away 
from the group surrounding her and edging toward me. 
Amused to think that she would seek me out when so much 
other attention had been lavished upon her, I was about to 
ask if she were enjoying the party when, airily surveying the 
room as if it were crawling with vermin, she said, "Is there no 
man in America worthy of me?" As I fumbled for an answer 
to her rhetorical question she was taken in by another eager 
clutch of Harvard boys. She allowed this new group to detain 
her for a few minutes, then went over to Dylan to make some 
sotto voce remark. Whatever it was, he was annoyed, and 
snapped back at her. It was obviously time to go. Without 
any prompting from me, Dylan suggested we leave. As we 
started for the cloakroom a group of undergraduates bound 
for Scollay Square asked him and Caitlin if they would care 
to come along. He said he would like to go, but Caitlin de- 
murred. Dylan went ahead of us, and was being helped into 
his overcoat when Caitlin and I caught up with him. He 
made no attempt to disguise his anger toward his wife from 
the crew-cutted boys escorting him. As we went downstairs, 
Caitlin asked, "Do you want me to come?" Dylan answered 
loudly, "Only if you stop being so awful!" Much to my dis- 
may, Caitlin said with decision, "I'm going home with 
Brinnin." Dylan got into a car with his group of attendants, 
and I put Caitlin into my car. No word broke our silence as 
we drove to the apartment; I bid her good night at the en- 
trance and went off to the house of the friends with whom I 
was staying. 

Since I had classes to teach the next morning, I dropped 
by at the apartment to pick up some books just before seven 

[ 158 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

o'clock. The first thing that caught my eye was a note on the 
reception table. It read simply, STAY our YOU SCUM. While 
I had a frightful moment of doubt, I learned shortly that the 
note was meant not for me but for Dylan. When he had come 
trundling in very late and very tipsy, he had found the door 
to his and Caitlin's room locked against him. My mother, hav- 
ing listened to Caitlin's railings against Dylan and against me, 
had realized that Dylan would be shut out for the night and 
had given up her room to sleep on the living-room couch. 
When Dylan saw the situation, he refused to let my mother 
sleep outside of her room and tried to force Caitlin to let him 
in. He pounded, made threats and entreaties, but nothing 
would budge her. Under my mother's persuasion, he had 
finally to accept her bedroom. 

When I went in to see him, I found him nude, curled up in 
a foetuslike position, all the lights in the room blazing about 
him. I took bedclothes that had slipped to the floor, covered 
him, put out the lights and left without attempting to wake 

Dylan was uneasy about his reading at the Brattle Theater 
in Cambridge that night. For the first time in America, he 
was going to perform dramatic excerpts from such exacting 
works as King Lear, Faustus, and perhaps Hamlet. No re- 
hearsal was planned; and he was plagued by embarrassing 
memories of a time when, reading on the BBC from similar 
works, he had made several interpretive gaffs which caused 
letters from irate scholars to descend upon him. But his ap- 
prehension on this score was less deep than his concern over 
a new development: a letter had just come from England in- 
forming him that Llewelyn's tuition remained unpaid. If the 
money were not forthcoming very shortly, the boy would be 

[ 159 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

dismissed from school. I offered to supplement Dylan's pres- 
ent funds in order to cable an immediate payment, but he re- 
fused this, saying that there was a good chance that he would 
shortly be in possession of a gift of one thousand dollars from 
a woman whom he had been invited to meet in Cambridge. 

This meeting came about at the home of Richard and Betty 
Eberhart. But through the course of a long-drawn-out after- 
noon party, Caitlin had taken a dislike to the potential donor 
and had addressed insulting remarks to her. Dylan had appar- 
ently continued to remain in her good grace, however, and 
before the party was over had made a date to meet her for 
lunch on the following day. 

With one of his most important readings scheduled for that 
evening, Dylan and Caitlin came back to the apartment to 
change clothes and have a light supper with my mother. At 
one point just before the meal, Dylan fingered through a 
selection of texts, wondering aloud just what passages he 
should read. Finally, he announced that he would read from 
Hamlet. Caitlin, seated across the room, spoke up. "Yow 
read Hamlet?" she said derisively. "Yew can't read Hamlet." 
Picking up one of his books, Dylan threw it across the room, 
missing his wife but knocking over a table lamp. "I am going 
to read Hamlet" he said as if he were challenging the ghost 
of Edwin Booth, "as Hamlet has never been read before." 
My mother then managed to step in and calm them both, 
and the contretemps went no further. But Caitlin's doubts 
had apparently registered. Dylan did not read from Hamlet 
that night. His readings from other works allowed him to 
make full range of his great voice, but, at least in the report 
of a number of actors who were present, his performance was 
not as successful as they had expected. It lacked finesse, they 

t 160 ] 

Roll if McKenna 

Dylan and the author on the terrace at the Boat House 

Dylan and Caitlin at St. David's Head 

Bill Read 

Bill Read 



July, 1951 June, 1952 

felt, and the flexibility without which much of the natural 
beauty of his voice was muted. Nevertheless, a review in the 
Boston Herald echoed the feelings of most of Dylan's audi- 
tors: "Mr. Thomas has the rare gift for a literary man, of 
verbal facility. In fact, he lives up to an introduction that 
placed him in the rather awkward position as 'one of the fin- 
est readers of poetry in the world today/ He sets forth his 
program with a true sense of its worth; he is not an actor and 
there is no sense of affectation; Marlowe's mighty line speaks 
through him simply and radiantly, aided only by a voice ca- 
pable of infinite shading and inflection. ... In his own 
understated words, his program consisted of 'a few purple 
patches from Webster and Beddoes, one drop of Marlowe, 
some of my own God help me poems.' The Webster con- 
sisted of the moving 'Mad Scene,' from The Duchess of Malfi 
. . . there were selections from Beddoes' Death's Jest Book . . . 
the death scene from Marlowe's Faustus, selections from King 
Lear, and, finally, Mr. Thomas' own Poem on His Birthday 
and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, which, despite 
his own assertion, are the products of a genuine poet, marked 
by the mastery of form, lyric impulse and feeling that in- 
forms only the finest works. ... Of all the solo dramas, 
mono-dramas, Chautauqua 'readings,' selections from the clas- 
sics, or whatever such an event is called, this was the most 
stirring of the season. Here was one of the leading talents of 
our day (exhibiting a warm personality as well) combined 
with the most soaring words ever written, communicating 
not as figure in greasepaint, but in the best sense of Words- 
worth's conception of a poet a man speaking to other men." 
Dylan and his would-be benefactor met for lunch at one 
o'clock at the Ritz on the next afternoon. Caitlin and my 

Dylan Thomas in America 

mother, ostensibly in town on a shopping tour, arranged their 
itinerary so that they just happened to be passing by the 
hotel at that hour. Under Caitlin's urging, they peered like 
spies at Dylan and his potential patroness, but managed to 
keep them from becoming aware of this surveillance. Un- 
known to Dylan, the thousand dollars was already lost to him. 
While he later reported to me that the lunch had been pleas- 
ant, two or three days afterwards the rich young woman 
phoned me to say that, while she had had every intention of 
giving Dylan money for his son's tuition, Caitlin had been so 
intolerably rude to her that she had been forced to change 
her mind. I tried to get her to see the matter in a different 
light, to explain that Caitlin's jealousy of attentions to Dylan 
was not entirely unnatural, and to point out that, after all, 
this had really nothing to do with the urgent need for money 
for the boy's tuition. But my efforts were unavailing. When, 
a few days later, I overheard Dylan berating Caitlin for hav- 
ing spoiled his chances, she answered, "I don't care, I'd do it 

After a reading at Boston University that evening and a 
large reception afterwards, where Caitlin frightened nearly 
everyone who spoke to her retorting to kindly inquiries as 
to how she liked America with: "I can't get out of the bloody 
country soon enough" the Thomases returned to New York. 
When I went to see them on the following Thursday, a liter- 
ary young man who had just turned up unannounced at the 
Chelsea took us to lunch. But this was a listless affair because 
of generally sodden morning-after spirits and because Dylan 
was suffering from a new and specific pain. While brushing 
his teeth two days before he had smashed a drinking glass by 
knocking it into the washbasin. Somehow, he believed, one 

[ 162 ] 

1951 June, 1952 

of its splinters had then got onto his toothbrush and into his 
gums, where now it was apparently festering. This struck me 
as too potentially dangerous to disregard, so we excused our- 
selves and went to a physician with whose office I had be- 
come familiar when migraine attacks had driven me from 
previous lunches. There we learned that Dylan had not 
picked up a piece of broken glass but only a nylon bristle 
from his toothbrush. This was easily extricated and within an 
hour we had returned to the hotel to pack his bags and then 
to taxi uptown to the Airlines Terminal. Dylan was off to 
Albany for an evening's engagement at Skidmore College, in 
Saratoga Springs. I would not see him again for nearly six 
weeks; after Skidmore, he would return to New York and 
then set off with Caitlin on the transcontinental part of their 

In preparation for this I had bought railroad tickets, mak- 
ing arrangements for him and Caitlin to stop off first at Penn- 
sylvania State College and later, in Arizona, where they 
were to visit the painters, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. 
With all travel costs paid through to San Francisco, all New 
York expenses taken care of, I handed them four hundred 
dollars as travel money for the five or six days they would 
spend in reaching the coast. To my consternation, they had 
been gone only four days when I received a telegram: PLEASE 

CORN HTTJ, SEDONA. By mischance this telegram did not come 
into my hands until four days after Dylan had dispatched 'it. 
By the time I could wire money, they were already in San 
Francisco. A letter from there, not without a note of chastise- 
ment for my failing to have kept them at least financially se- 
cure, arrived some three weeks later. 

[ 163 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 


Three letters lie I don't, of course, mean that be- 
fore me; dated March 20, March 26, and April ist. Here's 
a brief, but none the less stupid, reply to them all. 

I'm awfully sorry, re March 20, that you've been sick. 
And not of us? A mysterious illness; probably test-tubing 
out from M.I.T. to whose English students I owe a 
forever unwritten apology for never turning up. But I'm 
very glad you're better (April ist) now, and on such a 
good day. 

Thank you for the damnably urgent and answerable 
letter from Higham. I'm supposed, as perhaps you read, 
to write an introduction to the English forthcoming edi- 
tion of my Collected Poems which, I suppose, entails my 
reading them all. Daft I may be. ... 

Now, re March 26th. Those "mishaps" that caused you 
to miss my wire from Sedona proved agonising to us. 
Caitlin was frightfully ill all the way from New York to 
Pennsylvania State College and on the night-train to Chi- 
cago. During the Chicago journey, my bottled up bottle 
illness also grew severe; indeed, we were both so near to 
undignified death that, on reaching Chicago, we just 
could not go straight across the city to catch our next 
unrocking bed. So we went to a cosy little hovel of an 
hotel and wept and sweated there until next day. The 
hotel was fabulously expensive; the Pullman reservation 
for Tuesday, the i8th, fell out of date. I had to buy a new 
one, and so we arrived at Flagstaff with less than a dollar. 
The Ernsts were lovely, charming, and hospitable, but 
had no ready money and none to lend. We stayed there, 
absolutely penniless, for 8 days, being unable to buy our 
own cigarettes, to post a letter, or stand with a beer at 
Sedona's cowboy bar, or even wire you again. We stayed 
there, saying, "Beastly John Brinnin," until help came 
from San Francisco. Arriving at San Francisco, we found 
your two letters, and two cheques, and also a letter from 
the headmaster of Llewelyn's school saying he would be 

> 1951 June, 1952 

thrown out unless a hundred pounds were paid by April 
5. I then wired you again. You sent a cheque for 200 
dollars. And so, I had 400 dollars altogether. 300 dollars 
I wired to Llewelyn's school. The other 100 I spent on a 
Vancouver ticket. So (again) HELP. 

( On top of this, Caitlin had carefully arranged for some 
laundry to be sent on from New York to San Francisco. 
This cost 40 dollars. ) 

I can just manage to get to Vancouver; & I'll leave 
Caitlin the fee for my S.[an] F.[rancisco] State College 
reading which is tonight & which will be only 50 dollars. 

About other engagements: Is the date, on April 26, at 
the University of Chicago the same as that, on April 24, 
at the Northwestern University, Chicago? Or can't I read? 

It's summer here, not spring. Over 80. At Easter we go 
to Carmel & on to see Miller at Big Sur. We are both 

Please write very soon, with any news, some love, 
& a Bit of Money. Caitlin sends her love. And, as always, 
so do I. Yours, DYLAN 

While rumor, traveling faster than air mail, brought me 
amusing, shocking or mischievous items of news about Dylan 
and Caitlin every few days or so, this was the only direct 
word I had from them for a period of nearly six weeks. I 
wrote two or three letters every week, and sometimes Dylan 
acknowledged these by telegrams. While this seemed to be a 
most tenuous exchange by which to conduct so rigorous a 
program of appearances, experience of a previous tour al- 
lowed me to feel confident that Dylan was following the sub- 
stance if not always the letter of the itinerary he had asked 
me to prepare. Only at the penultimate stage of his sweep 
across the country and back was my confidence shaken. 

On Thursday, April 24th, he was in Chicago where, ac- 

[ 165 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

cording to schedule, he would at some point over the week 
end take leave of the hospitality of Ellen Borden Stevenson 
and board a plane for New Orleans, where he was to give a 
reading at Tulane on the following Monday. He phoned me 
in New York a rare gesture in itself and reached me in 
the late afternoon. He was worn out by his travels, he said, 
and wanted to come back to the Chelsea just as soon as he 
could. The reason for his call was simply to tell me that he 
was going to give up his reading date at Tulane. This upset 
me more than I allowed myself to show. While I could easily 
comprehend his weariness and his wish to be home, I was 
also greatly disturbed to think of repercussions that would 
follow should he cancel at the last minute an engagement 
made long before in good faith. That he should choose to 
omit, of all places, New Orleans was also a little puzzling. 
From the first day in America, he had urged me to get a date 
there, saying that, next to San Francisco, it was the one place 
he wanted to be certain of visiting. The reading in New Or- 
leans had taken more effort and had involved a more pro- 
tracted exchange of letters and telegrams than any other I had 
ever managed to secure. I reminded Dylan of all of this and 
asked him, with perhaps a note of entreaty, to reconsider his 
decision and make one final effort, if only to maintain his 
record of dependability. But he was doggedly weary and ada- 
mant, saying that he just could not face the idea of another 
day's travel that would not be in the direction of New York. 
When I could see that his mind was set and that his ex- 
haustion, whether it was something new and serious or 
merely the old familiar drain and dredge of a hangover, could 
not be discounted, I asked him to phone James Feibleman, 
who was in charge of his visit to Tulane, and explain that he 

[ 166 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

was too ill to come to New Orleans at this time. Having re- 
peatedly given Feibleman assurance that, in spite of his repu- 
tation for irresponsibility, he had always been faithful to 
reading commitments, I felt that only the word of Dylan him- 
self would carry final authority. Dylan agreed with this, and 
seemed relieved to have come upon a means by which he 
could compensate for his failing me by making his own per- 
sonal excuses to Feibleman. Before the conversation ended, 
our original positions were reversed: Dylan was now trying 
to importune me not to do something but to accept his 
decision with more cheerfulness. I realized, but with no les- 
sening of dismay in this instance, that his responsibility to- 
ward me seemed to weigh upon him more heavily than his 
responsibility toward the institutions to which I had assigned 
his services. We concluded with promises: Dylan's, to phone 
Feibleman immediately; mine, to meet him and Caitlin in 
New York just as soon as they had stepped from their train. 
Between classes at the University of Connecticut on the 
following Monday, I was summoned to the phone. It was 
James Feibleman, calling from New Orleans. When he said 
that he was alarmed at having had no word of Dylan's arrival 
for the reading that evening for which more than eight hun- 
dred tickets had been sold, I knew, in one collapsing moment, 
that Dylan had finally made the misstep everyone had waited 
for. I tried to explain what had happened, but, in the realiza- 
tion that nothing now could be done, our conversation ended 
in understandable bad feeling on Feibleman's part, and on 
my part, in the fatally delayed recognition that I should never 
have counted upon Dylan's promise to make the phone call 
that would explain his defection. This single instance of de- 
fault the only one of nearly one hundred and fifty engage- 

[ 167 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

ments in America for which he eventually was contracted 
was to plague Dylan and me for more than a year. His failure 
to turn up in New Orleans was published the length and 
breadth of the academic world with the consequence that, 
whenever anybody later contracted for his services, I had 
personally almost to guarantee his appearance in letter after 
reassuring letter, up until the moment when he would walk 
out upon the platform. Dylan himself eventually came to rec- 
ognize the seriousness of his broken engagement but, like 
every other such failing, this knowledge was simply packed 
into the indiscriminate bag of guilt that grew more heavy 
every day of his Me. 

Eager to see him and Caitlin and to hear of their experi- 
ences firsthand, I went to see them at the Chelsea on the 
morning of May Day. But again I walked into crisis: a terse 
cable from England had just arrived, containing the informa- 
tion that Llewelyn had been dismissed from school because 
his tuition had not been paid. While Dylan had written me on 
April ist that the necessary amount had already been for- 
warded, he admitted now that it had not been sent for weeks 
afterward, too late to save their son the humiliation to which 
he must have been subject. In a spell of anguish that drove 
him to pace the floor and to avert his eyes, Dylan said that 
Llewelyn would surely hold this failure against him for the 
rest of his life. Caitlin, so angry that she refused even to 
speak to Dylan, announced that she was leaving America at 
once; Dylan could make his own plans for his future life since 
for good and all she was leaving him. She asked me for 
money so that she might buy a return passage, adding that 
if I would not give her the necessary funds she would get 

[ 168 i 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

them somewhere else. In any case, she declared, there was no 
possibility of her remaining in New York for one more day. 
Weighed down with new guilt, wincing under Caitlin's verbal 
assault, Dylan asked me to come out with him to a bar. 
There he sat silent, his head in his hands, unable to speak, 
indifferent to the drink before him. While we sat together in 
a trance of despair, Caitlin came by briskly to say that she 
was going out to make her travel arrangements. Nothing 
would help Dylan now, neither liquor nor my words of com- 
fort that attempted to convince him that Caitlin was but 
justifiably upset, and that I at least did not take seriously her 
threat of leaving him. "She knows just how to hurt me most," 
was all he said. 

After a sad silent hour or so, I took him back to the hotel 
and put him to bed. He begged me not to leave and I said I 
would not. He slept deeply for a few hours while I tried to 
read one then another of the collection of Mickey Spillanes 
and other luridly illustrated thrillers with which the hotel 
room was strewn. When he awoke he was quite a different 
man; as if, somewhere in his sleep, he had struck bottom and 
then risen to the surface. There was to be a late afternoon 
reception for him at the Gotham Book Mart. While he had 
said earlier that he was going to phone Frances Steloff to say 
that he was too ill to come to her party, now he was quite 
ready to set out. We taxied uptown to the bookstore and 
walked into a swarm of poets. There Dylan autographed 
various editions of his books, signed the first copies of some 
new recordings, and mingled freely and in apparently good 
humor with the assembled literati. When I was about to leave 
for dinner with some friends, I took him aside to ask him if 
he were going to be all right. He felt fine, he said, thanked 

[ 169 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

me for having pulled him through the day's despair, and told 
me not to worry about him. 

Lake every other crisis, this one passed as quickly as it had 
loomed. Caitlin did not persist in her plans for leaving either 
America or Dylan. Llewelyn was soon reinstated, and the 
air was cleared and the way opened for the next still name- 
less but inevitable crisis. 

One week later, in the company of Leonard Dean, the head 
of the English department at the University of Connecticut, 
I awaited Dylan's plane at the Hartford airport. We had 
driven over from Storrs in order to escort him to the campus 
for an evening reading. Dylan was presumably en route from 
Washington, having changed planes at La Guardia for the 
short hop to Hartford. As we waited about, I realized that in 
spite of my easy show of confidence to Leonard Dean, I was 
acutely uncertain about Dylan's punctual descent. For once, 
I was in precisely the same situation as those hundreds of 
other sponsors who had awaited Dylan at airports and depots 
with no confidence that he would show, and with only the 
vaguest notion of what they might say to their disappointed 
audiences. I spent a good part of the time allaying Dean's 
doubts and in so doing was perhaps able to disguise my own. 
The scheduled flight landed on time and we went out of doors 
to meet it; Dylan was not among the deplaning passengers. 
A voice over the loud-speaker paged me. Dylan was on the 
phone from New York. His plane had missed its connection; 
he would be aboard the next one. Three hours later, just half 
an hour before he was scheduled to begin his reading some 
fifty miles away, we anxiously watched passengers stepping 
down from the next plane. One by one they emerged and, 

[ 170 ] 

July, 1951 June, 1952 

finally, the 24th passenger in a 24-seat plane, came Dylan. 
We hurried him into the car, shot through the night toward 
Storrs, and got him onto the platform only forty minutes late. 
As if he had prepared for it the whole length of the day, his 
reading was rich, vigorous and professionally serene. 

Responding to an impressive popular demand for still an- 
other reading, the Poetry Center scheduled a farewell per- 
formance for Dylan on May isth, the day before he was to 
sail for home on the Nieuw Amsterdam. Equipped with a 
meticulous and, to my eyes at least, gleaming statement ac- 
counting for all of his earnings and expenditures from the 
moment he had set foot in America four months before, I 
went in the early afternoon to see him at the Chelsea. There 
I found only Caitlin, looking wan and helpless, surrounded by 
gaping suitcases in a room draped with more clothes, pres- 
ents, books and random papers than could possibly be fitted 
into them. We set about organizing things, packed bag by 
bag, and were wearily strapping them up and putting labels 
on them when Dylan arrived. I sat down with him to go over 
the pages of figures on which I had spent long hours, only to 
find him listening halfheartedly. When I could see that he was 
not only indifferent to the financial details of his visit, but 
bored with my determination to have him grasp the reality 
of income and expenditure, I gave up, turned the accounts 
over to him, and implored him to take good care of them. 

That evening, as I awaited him at the Poetry Center, Sarah 
came backstage unannounced, and said she hoped that she 
might be able to see Dylan. She had just returned from Mex- 
ico where she had gone to live with the journalist to whom 
she had been married for nearly a year, but whom now she 
had left with the intention of seeking a divorce. When Dylan 

Dylan Thomas in America 

arrived I directed him to her in the Green Room and left them 
alone there for about twenty minutes before performance 
time. I was never to know the nature of this meeting. Dylan 
said nothing of it, and neither did Sarah. But whatever this 
present encounter might mean, I had long been aware that 
the love for Sarah that had once brought Dylan to despair 
had either faded away through neglect or had been buried. 

The farewell reading turned out to be a gala event, the 
auditorium being filled with enthusiastic friends and acquaint- 
ances of his and other people who, having heard him read 
before, came back with whole parties. He was carried off by 
a group of strangers afterwards, but not before he and I had 
made a private sentimental appointment to meet at "the 
Horse" for a bon voyage drink. With a girl who had come 
down from Boston for the reading, I went to the Tavern 
about midnight, finding it packed with other people alerted 
for Dylan's appearance. Two hours of waiting in the expect- 
ant din of the place brought no sign or word of Dylan. Since 
I had to leave New York very early in the morning, I had to 
admit that this farewell for my part, at least, was already an- 
other irretrievable fiasco. Upset by this, and by the vast ac- 
cumulation of errors and crises and unhappinesses of which 
it reminded me, I put my companion in a taxi and went to a 
Western Union office to send a wire to Dylan's ship. Sad 
about the turn of the night's events, forced to recognize that 
Dylan had little care for the farewell gesture that meant 
much to me, I sent a wire that I hoped would transcend all 
our trials and express my biting disappointment in having 
been able to protect for him but a paltry few hundred dol- 
lars out of the thousands he had earned. 

A week or so later I received a letter written at sea from 

July, 1951 fane, 1952 

Caitlin in which she thanked and excoriated me with equal 
fervor, and to which Dylan had appended a postscript: 


I'll be writing very soon, from the Boat House, Laugh- 
arne, where we hope to be by the end of the week. Tliis 
is just to thank you for everything; I wish we could have 
been more together. And thank you for cabling love. 


[ 173 i 

1952: June September 

THERE WAS no way in which Dylan could have known 
that the ensuing months were among the unhappiest in my 
friendship with him. Like many other people whose affection 
had given them insight, I had come to feel that he was in a 
state of devouring unhappiness and in need of help. The 
causes of his wretchedness were easy to determine, but their 
sources lay beneath the purview of everyone. His inability to 
settle down to creative work for which his American trips 
had become partial excuse and explanation was, in Dylan's 
mind, a consequence of financial pressures and the domestic 
strife they made inevitable. Yet, when his financial difficulties 
were analyzed they seemed less pertinent to his distress than 
they first appeared. One of the great surprises in my knowl- 
edge of Dylan came when I learned that, in spite of his en- 
forced preoccupation with money and with the anxieties at- 
tending existence on the edge of poverty, actually his income 
had for a number of years been twice or three times the size 
of mine. On far less than this amount, families larger than 
his lived in Wales or England not merely with security but in 
luxury. I could only conclude that Dylan's propensity to 
squander money was a compulsion related to his obsessive 

[ 174 ] 

; J une September 

drinking which, in turn, fed his passion to participate fully, 
thoughtlessly, and to excess in every human activity as if 
his enormous mental and physical energy, denied its creative 
channel, had perforce to spend itself otherwise. When he 
found himself unable to write because he was financially har- 
ried, it was nearly always himself who had made such harass- 
ment unavoidable. From this recognition, it was only a step 
to the realization that, should Dylan have somehow been re- 
lieved of every financial care, he would most likely continue 
to be driven, restless, wracked with guilt and remorse, and no 
less obsessively drawn to the forms of self-exacerbation that 
had become his way of life. 

The little help I could give Dylan, it seemed to me, was 
twofold: by doing all that I could to help him earn money in 
America, and by showing an undemanding affection for him 
as a person, and faith in him as a poet. When my efforts to 
increase his financial security were confounded by his extrav- 
agance, I tried to show him that I regarded this as no im- 
portant failing, and to emphasize the deep bond of accept- 
ance and trust we had come to share. But I knew as well as 
he that his unhappiness lay in the conviction that his creative 
powers were failing, that his great work was finished. He had 
moved from "darkness into some measure of light," a progress 
attended by the acclaim of the literate part of the English- 
speaking world; but now that he had arrived, he was without 
the creative resources to maintain and expand his position. 
As a consequence, he saw his success as fraudulent and him- 
self as an impostor. While he expressed such thoughts largely 
as self-deprecating jokes, he could not disguise their gnawing 
reality or force. 

He was, of course, not an impostor, and his work was 

[ 175 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

worthy of all of its public rewards. But his growth now de- 
pended not only on inherent genius and the skills of master 
craftsmanship, but upon the additional faculties of intellect 
and moral compulsion that mark nearly every major poet. 
While Dylan's intellect was great, his indifference to ideas 
limited its exercise; while his moral discipline was amply 
demonstrated in his craftsmanship a point never to be un- 
derestimated it was apparent almost nowhere else. To fore- 
see Dylan in middle and later life was to pose two questions, 
each of which answered itself: Would he continue, year by 
year, to be the roaring boy, the daimonic poet endlessly cele- 
brating the miracle of man under the eyes of God? Would he, 
by some reversal of spirit, some re-direction of his genius, 
become the wise, gray and intellectually disciplined poet 
moving toward an epical summation of his lyrical gifts? It 
was my sense then, as it is now, that the term of the roaring 
boy was over, and that the means by which Dylan might 
continue to grow were no longer in his possession. I was 
convinced that Dylan knew this and, whether or not he com- 
prehended the meaning of his actions, that the violence of his 
life was a way of forgetting or avoiding the self-judgment 
that spelled his doom. Poetry itself had become, as he said, 
"statements made on the way to the grave." 

The resolution he made to overcome the terror of this 
knowledge came from desperation, and yet he pursued it not 
without valor: since his genius had come to jeopardy, he 
would employ his talent. He turned to prose, to the drama, 
and to the opera. While he did not live to write the opera he 
had conceived, his achievements in the other two forms are 
of an order high enough to have satisfied any but the expec- 
tations of genius. Yet the fact remains that when Dylan 

[ 176 ] 

*95 2: June September 

Thomas came to the attention of Americans as a major poet, 
he was creatively already past his prime. The record of his 
days in America is one of which it might be said, "Thou 
knowest this man's fall; but thou knowest not his wrastling." 
While I was unhappy in not having found some means 
with which to break through the turmoil of spirit in which 
Dylan and Caitlin had concluded their American visit, I was 
resigned to the hiatus of silence that followed. When the two 
or three letters I sent to Wales went unanswered, I assumed, 
correctly as it turned out, that Dylan was quietly in Laugharne 
except for roistering periods in London when he would go 
up for perhaps a single appointment with the BBC, or with 
the editor of a magazine, and remain for days or for weeks, 
out of touch with everyone, including his wife. Since I 
planned to be in London on two occasions in the summer, I 
did not press for his answers. For one thing, I had a fairly 
definite feeling that Dylan's American tours were a matter of 
past history. He had himself said to an American interviewer 
that his recent trip was "my last visit for some time. I will 
have had the universities and they will have had me." He had 
seen more than enough of the United States to satisfy his 
mild curiosity about places, and while he enjoyed Americans 
and American life enormously, the cost he continually paid 
to learn this was disproportionate to its rewards. Another 
reading tour was too exhausting now to contemplate, not 
only for Dylan, who had to do the traveling and survive the 
attendant social life, but for me, who but stood and waited 
for the descents of new crises. Within the limits of his fame 
and the hospitality of colleges and universities, he had al- 
ready done as much as he could ever do. Months away from 
his desk would only increase his inner, barely spoken fear 

[ 177 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

that he had already written all the poems he was going to 

In spite of this, I knew that if I saw Dylan I would bring up 
the subject of his returning to America, if only to dispose of 
it as a factor in our relationship. While we had both felt that 
another tour would be an intolerable assignment, Dylan had 
repeatedly expressed the belief that a happy solution to do- 
mestic difficulties might be reached if he and Caitlin were to 
come to America with the two younger children and settle in 
any one place where he might have the assurance of a liv- 
able salary. A university in California had made him a tenta- 
tive offer of a year's appointment, and this had struck him as 
ideal, especially since the position would be a sinecure in 
which his duties would be secondary to his mere presence. 
When this possibility fell through, I had offered him my own 
teaching job at the Poetry Center, with the promise of a 
salary considerably larger than mine, and had been otherwise 
able to assure him basic livelihood through contacts I had 
made in his behalf with people connected with academic life. 
But his failure to answer letters in which I outlined these 
possibilities had led me to believe that, even if he were still 
interested, circumstances in Laugharne were such as to leave 
him unable to make any decision about them. 

When, later in the summer, I was traveling between Ire- 
land and Italy, I phoned Laugharne from London; Dylan said 
he would come down to see me the next day. When he did 
not arrive at the agreed-upon time and place, I again phoned 
Laugharne. Dylan said he had wired that he could not make 
the trip; the telegram must have gone astray. The real rea- 
son, he said, was that he simply did not have the train fare. 
Since I was leaving for the Continent that night, he sug- 

[ 178 ] 

1 95 2: J une September 

gested we plan to meet in London, or that I should come to 
Laugharne, when I returned to England in September. 

A month later, on my last day in London, and after a two- 
day confusion of missed notes and phone calls, I reached 
Caitlin in Wales. She told me that Dylan was in London, 
staying with friends whose address she gave me. I phoned 
him, and through the familiar groans and sighs of his hang- 
over, we arranged a meeting. The place he chose was a pub, 
the Mother Red Cap, in Camden Town, where he had lived 
so unhappily for part of the previous winter. When I found 
him there about noon, our greetings were warm, overdrama- 
tized by accusations and expostulations, and rather giddy. I 
could see that, in spite of his chipper bearing, Dylan had re- 
assumed his "London look" bloodshot and yellowed eyes, 
blotched complexion, inextricably tangled locks, an air of hav- 
ing slept in his bulky clothes for nights on end. He said he 
felt awful, but our conversation was intimate, easy and buoy- 
ant a welcome change from those lugubrious interviews 
I had come to expect when last he was in America. We 
toasted American friends and enemies, framing nice or nasty 
epithets for each of them, then took our pints to another 
part of the pub where, by inserting sixpence in a slot, we 
could play a mechanical soccer game involving quick coordi- 
nation of both hands. Dylan played wildly, urging on his little 
lead footballers with shrieks and gulps and profane encour- 
agements, and beat me every time. When we tired of this, we 
settled down for another drink at a table surrounded by a 
noonday crowd of workers. 

As we lingered on I learned, with sharply conflicting emo- 
tions, that Dylan very much wanted to come back to Amer- 
ica, and that he was already counting upon me to make an- 

[ 179 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

other visit possible. When, merely by way of report, and in 
review of previous conversations, I began to tell him of plans 
and schemes that had from time to time passed through my 
mind, and of sources of income none of which would in- 
volve another tour that I felt I could guarantee, he was 
clearly not interested in details. All that was apparent was his 
wish to come and his trust that, without drawing him into 
responsibility and commitment, I would arrange a visit by 
one means or another. Again I realized I would have to give 
up my attempt to win his participation even in those plans 
that would most acutely concern him. 

When we had put aside this onerous, brief and, to me, frus- 
trating consideration of means of livelihood, Dylan became 
determinedly playful again and at one point composed a little 
obscene verse, wrote it down on a ragged scrap of paper, 
read it aloud and gave it to me. The poem three quatrains 
in length, two beats to a line and tidily rhymed shows him 
in his fey barroom humor, but his unabashed use of the vul- 
gar tongue prevents its publication here. 

Shooed out of the Mother Red Cap at the afternoon closing 
time, we queued up for a bus and climbed to the upper deck. 
As we inched through depressing Camden Town in stops and 
starts, Dylan seemed suddenly gloomy and sober. "How I hate 
London/' he said. "Look . . ." and motioned toward the blar- 
ing commercial ugliness of the street through which we 
crawled. Then, as if he had brushed away any doubts of mine 
that may have registered upon him, he began very seriously 
to speak of returning to America. What might he offer in the 
way of new programs? Was his stuff as stale to American 
audiences as it was to him? Where could he read where he 
had not already read? I assured him that there were thou- 

[ 180 i 

*95 2: J une September 

sands of people who would come to hear him read for a sec- 
ond and third time, and that there were still hundreds of 
colleges and universities that would be happy to invite him. 
About new material, he felt that by the spring he might 
have four or five new poems. Still, that would not be enough, 
he felt. Perhaps he should concentrate on dramatic readings 
from Hamlet, say, or Faustus, or from Djuna Barnes's 
Nighttvood, especially some of the monologues of "Dr. 
Matthew-Mighty-gram-of-salt-Dante-O'Connor." I felt that all 
of these might be worked into his programs for the sake of 
variety, but insisted that his reading of his own work was still 
the major point of audience interest. 

When I asked him about the progress of Llareggub Hill, 
the "play for voices" he had been writing on commission 
from the BBC, he said it was coming along well enough and 
that he hoped to have a final draft within two or three 
months. This led me to suggest that his own play might fur- 
nish him with a complete new program he could read it 
himself or, better, I could round up a cast of actors and ar- 
range a reading production for one or two nights within the 
Poetry Center season. In that it would supply a new program 
for him, Dylan felt this idea was a good one. But he was 
dubious about thinking in terms of a production, even a mini- 
mal reading production, mainly because authentic Welsh 
accents would be essential. He doubted that these would be 
available in New York. I told him that I could draw upon a 
great number of skilled but unemployed actors, and urged 
him to let me go ahead with the goal of a reading production 
in mind. If such a program should work out, he might in the 
future be able to travel with it and so be relieved of the con- 
tinuous strain of having to carry the whole show himself. He 

Dylan Thomas in America 

agreed to have a completed script in my hands by March, 
two months before the first performance, which we would 
schedule for some time in May. 

When our bus had made its snail's way into Soho, we 
climbed down onto Shaftesbury Avenue and walked to the 
Mandrake. The little club was sultry and silent in the late 
afternoon, none of the few members who sat about playing 
chess or poring over newspapers even bothering to nod to 
Dylan as we came in. We had a drink in the hushed dimness 
of the bar before I left to accomplish some last-minute er- 
rands. Dylan supplied me with directions for rejoining him 
at a pub called El Vino, in Fleet Street. When I got there 
just before six o'clock I found him surrounded by young 
M.P/s in pin-striped suits and bowlers. He had a glass of red 
wine in his hand, was smoking a cigar and being hearty, 
manly, anecdotal and altogether one of the boys. His well- 
kempt circle of admirers kept him the center of attention, 
but I felt that he was not quite comfortable and, for all his 
jovial participation, that his talk was not quite in character. A 
few minutes after I had come into the group, having been 
introduced around as his American mentor and guide, Dylan 
began to make unflattering whispered remarks to me about 
this or that individual at our elbows, and I began to under- 
stand how consciously he was playing the role of man of 
the world among his peers. 

My boat train was due to leave at 7:30. We piled into a 
taxi with an intense, obsessively talkative girl of about twenty 
who had somehow insinuated herself into the group at El 
Vino and who was now clinging to Dylan as though she had 
not been out of his sight for days. En route to Waterloo Sta- 
tion, I recapitulated to Dylan my sense of the plans we had 

[ 182 ] 

J95 2; 7ne September 

touched upon during our bus ride, but he simply asked me 
to go ahead with whatever I thought best. When I suggested 
that perhaps he might find a better title than Llareggub Hill 
for his "play for voices," he agreed at once. The joke in the 
present title was a small and childish one, he felt; beyond 
that, the word, Llareggub would be too thick and forbidding 
to attract American audiences. "What about Under Milk 
Wood?" he said, and I said, "Fine," and the new work was 
christened on the spot. 

In the loud and smoky din of boat-train departure, we said 
our good-bys with embraces and handshakes. As late passen- 
gers for the He de France hurried through the gates, Dylan 
began, as always, to make his half-spoken apologies for his 
bad behavior, his inadequacies, his troublemaking ways, and 
a prediction that, God help us, we'd be together and sick 
again in New York through another whole roundabout of a 
tour. Then out of nowhere came Dylan's high wild wonderful 
laughter, interrupting his apologies and dismissing them. 

[ 183 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

Under Milk Wood, but partially completed in the sanctuary 
of Dylan's little studio, was nevertheless set to come out into 
the world. In October the Poetry Center issued its annual 
brochure of the coming season's events, including a reading 
performance of the new work scheduled for early in May. 
But the distance between October and May was almost in- 
calculable to Dylan, who suffered through another troubled 
winter in Laugharne and London with little thought of the 
commitments I had proceeded to make for his next visit. I 
sent him several letters, naming dates and places, asking him 
just how far I should go in assigning his services, but he made 
no reply. Since I had become used to not hearing from him, 
sometimes even in the most urgent of circumstances, my 
confidence in his intentions to keep our London agreement 
was shaken somewhat yet not really jeopardized. But by the 
middle of March, when we had selected a cast of young ac- 
tors ready to begin rehearsals of Under Milk Wood, and had 
already sold hundreds of tickets for the premiere perform- 
ance, I felt we could proceed no further without an immedi- 
ate and definite word of assurance from him. On March i/th, 
I phoned Wales from Cambridge and by good chance found 

[ 184 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

Dylan at home. With what sounded like the full wash of the 
North Atlantic between, we had a brief conversation. Every 
nuance was lost, but over the crackle and splash of the trans- 
Atlantic connection, I did hear with reasonable clarity that 
he was ready to come, and that he wanted me to go ahead 
with all of the plans which I had broached in correspond- 

Four days later I received this letter: 


After all sorts of upheavals, evasions, promises, pro- 
crastinations, I write, very fondly, and fawning slightly, 
a short inaccurate summary of those events which caused 
my never writing a word before this. In the beginning, 
as Treece said in one of his apocalapses, was the bird; 
and this came from Caitlin, who said, and repeated it 
only last night after our Boston-Laugharne babble, *You 
want to go to the States again only for flattery, idleness, 
and infidelity/ This hurt me terribly. The right words 
were: appreciation, dramatic work, and friends. There- 
fore I didn't write until I knew for certain that I could 
come to the States for a visit and then return to a body and 
hearth not irremediably split from navel to firedog. Of 
course I'm far from certain now, but I'm coming. This un- 
fair charge flattery, idleness, etcetera kept me seeth- 
ing quiet for quite a bit. Then my father died, and my 
mother relied on me to look after her and to stay, writing 
like fury, pen in claw, a literary mole, at home. Then a 
woman you never met her who promised me a real 
lot of money for oh so little in return died of an overdose 
of sleeping drug and left no will, and her son, the heir, 
could hardly be expected to fulfill that kind of unwritten 
agreement. Then a publisher's firm, which had advanced 
me money for an American-Impressions book of which I 
never wrote a word, turned, justly, nasty, and said I had 

[ 185 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

to do the book by June 1953 or they would set the law on 
me. . . . Then . . . Margaret Taylor said that she was 
going to sell the rickety house we wrestled in, over our 
heads and live bodies. So this was the position I was in, 
so far as my American visit was concerned: Caitlin was 
completely against it; my mother was against it, because 
I should be near her and working hard to keep the lot of 
us; and I was reluctantly against it, because I was with- 
out money, owing to an unexpected suicide, and I could 
not, naturally, leave a mother and wife and three children 
penniless at home while I leered and ribthumped in 
Liberty Land; and the publishers were legally against 
it, because I had to write a book for them quickly; and 
on top of all that, the final reason for my knowing I could 
not come out this spring was the prospect of the rapid 
unhousing of dame, dam and the well-loved rest. ( I write 
like a cad. I should whip myself to death on the steps of 
my club for all this.) Well, anyway; I won a prize, for 
the book of the year, of 250 (pounds), and a brother-in- 
law in Bombay said he would look, from a distance, after 
my mother's welfare. And Margaret Taylor has, tempo- 
rarily, relented. And I think I can give the demanding 
publishers the script of Under Milk Wood (when fin- 
ished) instead of, for instance, A Bards-Eye View of the 
U.S.A. And Caitlin's hatred of my projected visit can be 
calmed only by this: that after no more than 6 weeks* 
larricking around I return from New York with enough 
money to take Colm, her and me for three winter months 
to Portugal where all, I hear, is cheap and sunny. Or, 
alternately, that I find, in a month, a house for us, in 
your country, and can send for Caitlin to join me in the 
early summer and keep us going, through summer and 
autumn, by work which is not cross-continental reading 
and raving. Of the alternatives, she would far prefer the 
first. So do you think it possible? Do you think I can earn 
a lot in six weeks: enough, that is, for a Portugese win- 
ter? I do not care, in those six weeks, how much I read, or 

[ 186 i 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

how many times, or where. I think, for economy, it would 
be best for me to stay in a New York hotel the Chelsea, 
I trust for only a little time and then to move in, 
manias and all, on to friends. I am hoping that perhaps 
my old friend Len Lye, who lives in Greenwich Village, 
near Ruthven Todd, will put me up: I am only small, 
after all, and alone, though loud. I haven't his address, 
but will get in touch with him once in Chelsea'd New 

I have put down, in more or less true detail, all the 
above little hells to show why I have been unable, till 
now, to write and say: "It is fine. Go ahead." 

About Under Milk Wood. I shall not have the com- 
plete manuscript ready until the week of my sailing. I 
have, anyway, some doubts as to the performance of it 
by myself and a professional cast. Some kind of an ap- 
proximation to a Welsh accent is required throughout, 
and I think I could make an hour's entertainment out of 
this myself. Shall we discuss it later? I shall have the ms 
with me, embarking, from the liner, and if you still think, 
after reading it, it needs other and professional voices, 
then I don't believe it would need all that 'careful prepa- 
ration' you mention. I should be very glad, by the way, to 
hear from you, as soon as possible, about any ideas you 
might have as to what I should read aloud in my general 
verse-reading programmes. What poets, and of what cen- 
turies? I'd like a wide repertoire. Caitlin sends her love 
to your mother. Yours always, dear John, Dylan. 

At the top of the page there was this postscript: 

I shall be applying for a visa this week: in Cardiff, 
this time. I do not think they are quite so screening-strict 
there as in London. URGENT, and just remembered: let 
me have, at once, a formal and official Poetry Center letter 
Dear Mr. Thomas-ing me and saying what cultural, and 
important, engagements you have fixed up for me. 

[ 187 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

On the morning of April 21, 1953, Dylan arrived in New 
York aboard the S.S. United States. As I awaited on the pier, 
I expected I would be joined by others of his friends and ac- 
quaintances, but no one came. He disembarked hatless and 
coatless, and I was happy to find him clear-eyed, hale, sober 
in that characteristically sturdy sense of himself that always 
meant that he was at ease. We took a cab to the Chelsea, 
which was home to him now, and he told me of his intoler- 
ably dull five days at sea. The only person he had spoken 
with on the voyage was a Texan named Herb Money who, 
according to Dylan, was a back-slapping caricature of every- 
thing one knew or imagined about the state of Texas. Except 
for moderate drinking sessions with Money in the ship's bar, 
he had done nothing except read book after book, mostly 
detective stuff, until he felt he was losing his eyesight. His 
boredom ultimately became so overpowering that the only 
thing he could think of doing was to stand like a scarecrow 
in the wardrobe of his stateroom, just for a change of per- 
spective. Definitely, he said, he would return to England by 

Glad to see him back, the staff of the Chelsea from the 
manager to the colored bellboys received him with smiles, 
spoken greetings and an attitude that was both deferential 
and familiar. When he had been ushered into a large, excep- 
tionally well-appointed room on the fifth floor, we put down 
his bags and proceeded directly out of the hotel and on to 
Seventh Avenue where the big cut-rate bars were now as 
familiar to him as the little pubs of Laugharne. Under Milk 
Wood, was still far from finished, he admitted, in confirma- 
tion of my unhappiest suspicion. But he felt it would be no 
trouble at all to have the script in final shape for the an- 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

nounced date of its first performance. Unwilling to cast a 
shadow over his self-confidence, I pressed him no further on 
the progress of the play. We spent the whole day in a 
series of bars, working our way from Thirty-fourth Street 
down to the Village. At the White Horse Tavern, which we 
reached by midafternoon, everyone along the bar turned to 
greet him. Ernie, the rotund proprietor, sent Scotch to our 
table and sat down with us to reminisce about memorable 
evenings of the year before. Dylan seemed happy, more than 
a little excited and, most of all, at home. His only genuine 
ease, I had long before observed, was among friendly faces, 
known or unknown, in places where the only propriety was 
to be oneself. In the spell of this protracted good feeling, I 
put aside the lists of urgent appointments and lecture-tour 
matters I seemed now never to be without, and simply basked 
in Dylan's open and infectious delight in having come back to 

Around six o'clock we left the deeper part of the Village 
and went uptown to the Algonquin to have a drink with 
Howard Moss, whom Dylan had specifically wanted to see on 
this first day of his return, and Mildred Wood, a friend of 
mine who, like Howard, was also on the staff of the New 
Yorker. People at adjoining tables and people passing through 
the lobby were quick to recognize Dylan. Wherever we 
looked we would spot whispered conversations and heads 
nodding in our direction. When one of us remarked upon this 
surrounding buzz of attention, Dylan dismissed it with a joke. 
Yet in his beaming acknowledgment of the situation it was 
apparent that he was enjoying the stir his presence had 
caused. We were joined shortly by Liz, a close friend of mine 
since our meeting fourteen years before, when she had been 

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Dylan Thomas in America 

a student at Bennington, who, just within the past year, had 
become my assistant in direction of the activities of the Po- 
etry Center. In this position it had fallen upon her to round 
up a suitable cast for Under Milk Wood and to undertake the 
many preliminary arrangements for its production. Dylan's 
long failure to answer letters, or to send the script in advance 
of his coming, and the consequent sense of working in a 
vacuum that marked the whole project to date, had been a 
particular trial to her. While I knew that she was anxious to 
meet him, her interest was largely in terms of her job. A long 
season at the Poetry Center had dispelled whatever illusions 
she may have originally entertained as to the charm or 
glamor of poets, domestic or foreign. Their few remarks to 
each other after they were introduced were rather markedly 
restrained Liz's because she was at the moment interested 
only in getting the script of Under Milk Wood, Dylan's be- 
cause this tall, beautiful and obviously efficient young woman 
was already a figure of authority with whom he would have 
to deal. I learned later that they had taken an instant dislike 
to one another. 

Our cocktail hour was not a bright one. Dylan, feeling the 
effects of a long day of random drinking, reminded of his 
default by Liz's presence, losing his sense of ease in the care- 
fully decaying elegance of the Algonquin, soon became al- 
most wordless. He spilled his Martini, tried clumsily to re- 
trieve it, and sat up to meet the admonishing eye of a waiter. 
This put him off altogether. When we had quickly decided to 
move on, he said that on this first night in New York he 
wanted to do something brashly American something like a 
visit to the Statue of Liberty and asked for our suggestions. 
Harlem? It was too early for that. The Village? No, he 

[ 190 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

would run into too many people he wasn't quite ready to see. 
After a number of other choices had been named, he finally 
decided upon the loudest and brassiest musical comedy we 
might find. Guys and Dolls, then in its third Broadway year, 
was still on the boards. We would have to go without dinner 
to make the curtain but, for Dylan, this was always the most 
inconsequential of decisions. Taking leave of our friends, we 
hurried toward Times Square, bought expensive tickets at an 
agency, and got to our seats just in time for the opening 
curtain. Within fifteen minutes we were ready to leave. Years 
of success had removed all luster from the show, apparently, 
and mesmerized its cast into a band of performing robots. 
Merely to watch the first scenes demanded painful effort and 
concentration; one wanted to take every actor by the shoul- 
ders and wake him up. After we had exchanged several dis- 
believing glances, I suggested we leave, and Dylan agreed on 
the instant. We shot out of the theater and into the Astor 
Bar. But the impetus that had carried us through a long day 
and into the evening was dissipated, and neither of us had 
any heart for drumming up new entertainment. Half an 
hour later I left him at the Astor and went to Grand Central 
to catch a train for Connecticut, 

It seemed to me that Dylan was quite capable of taking 
care of himself in America now. At least, this was the excuse 
I gave myself for my newly relaxed attitude toward him and 
his affairs. Actually, I knew that he could never take care of 
himself, just as well as I knew that no one on earth could 
take care of him. In tempering my solicitude for his success 
in meeting reading or social engagements, or in dealings with 
publishers, and by maintaining a wide gap between our pro- 
fessional association and our friendship, I was really taking 

Dylan Thomas in America 

care of myself. Arrangements for his public appearances had 
become systematized by this time, and I found them com- 
paratively easy to carry out. But Dylan's personal progress 
was still chaotic, whimsical and, in its daily drink-induced 
miseries and guilt-ridden despair, saddening to watch. Wary 
of useless involvement, I had come to pay little attention to 
his habits or his movements. As far as I could see, my pre- 
vious intimate attendance, with all the affection it implied 
and the sometimes dredging effort that it demanded, had done 
nothing to help him or to make him happy; it had only re- 
duced me to a kind of nervous despair. While my new atti- 
tude was self -protective, it was also dictated by a recognition 
I had never expected to make and never believed I could ac- 
cept the fact that Dylan's way of life was not merely worri- 
some and tiring but that, ultimately, it was just plainly bor- 
ing. Having long ago registered the first impact of his great 
personality, having come to know and to participate in all of 
his moods, having shared confidences in every phase of his 
life, I found it only tedious to sit through half the day with 
him as he groaned and fretted about one hangover and, at 
the same time, set about guaranteeing the next. 

With his new tour already begun, I had still not been able 
to allay doubts about his dependability in the wake of his 
last tour. The endless recriminations resulting from his fail- 
ure to keep his engagement at Tulane had been directed not 
toward him but toward me. I had been shocked, perhaps 
naively, to learn that many people looked upon my efforts in 
behalf of Dylan not as the gestures of a friend but as the ac- 
tions of a businessman for whom he was working. Since I 
could not, without unbecoming and special pleading, point 
out what my association with Dylan was costing me in time 

[ 19* 1 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

and peace of mind, I had to accept, with a sullen frustration 
that soon became a shrugging resignation, the role that was 
continually assigned to me. This, among many other evi- 
dences that in the minds of a great part of his public Dylan 
was an ineluctable and blameless entity, warned me to take 
care. Yet, for all my tongue-tied distress over the Tulane epi- 
sode and the troubles it caused, I could not blame him either. 
There was a seam of primal innocence at the core of him 
that caused judgment to be obliterated, accusation to dissolve 
in midair. And yet I knew that absolution from the judg- 
ments and accusations of others only left Dylan to wrestle 
with his guilt alone. 

I did not see him again until he came to Boston, for his first 
engagement outside of New York at Boston University, 
where an arts conference of a number of New England col- 
leges was assembled. Since I was myself occupied with a 
speaking part in this conclave, I asked Bill Read to meet his 
plane. When they arrived together to pick me up after my 
lecture, we went to Charles Street for a few beers in a 
vaguely Bohemian establishment before going on, at Dylan's 
enthusiastic suggestion, to the Union Oyster House for 
broiled lobster. 

Mindful of his reading that night in Boston's famous Jordan 
Hall, he was by midafternoon settled in my apartment in 
Cambridge, and we spent an hour making a choice of poems* 
There, he preempted a spot in which I find it easy to remem- 
ber him a chair beside a table from which he could look, 
through a wall-sized window over the Charles River, toward 
the gold-domed top of Beacon Hill, and from which he could 
watch sea gulls gliding and pivoting against the Boston sky 
line. By the time Under Milk Wood was ready for perfonn- 

[ 193 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

ance, the table showed permanent marks of forgotten or mis- 
laid cigarettes and, branded into the light wood, the ghostly 
circles of beer cans. 

He stayed in the apartment while I went to New York on 
Poetry Center duties over the week end. When I got back on 
Monday morning, I found him over a breakfast of beer and 
cigarettes, at work in his favorite place, the table already lit- 
tered with tidbits of paper on which were scribbled discon- 
nected scenes and experimental phrases from Under Milk 
Wood. He might have been a man working on his income 
tax report rather than a playwright attempting to sustain a 
lyric mood. As we talked through the morning, I became 
aware that he was at last feeling the press of time, and that 
the unfinished part of his play was no longer merely a mat- 
ter of scenes to be filled in and lines to be brushed up but a 
problem that would demand all of his creative resourceful- 
ness. The making of Milk Wood had assumed the first pro- 
portions of a marathon that was to continue up to, and, as it 
developed, beyond curtain time, now two weeks hence. 

He was due in Bennington in the late afternoon. I drove 
him to North Station and waved him off on a brief circuit of 
readings that was also to include Syracuse and Williams. 

Five days later, as I met his returning train, he trundled 
from a day coach, smiling, weary and stone sober. There was 
no club car, he explained; all he could do was read a copy of 
the New Yorker until it was a rag in his hands. We went to 
the apartment for cocktails with a young Harvard professor 
of psychology, and an Englishwoman who had come for tea 
and remained to catch a glimpse of the poet. Dylan chose 
beer over the Martinis he was offered; nothing else would 
assuage his afternoon-long thirst. After dinner, almost now in 

[ 194 1 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

a sense of pilgrimage, we went to the Old Howard. Dylan 
laughed at the droopy-trousered comedians and loudly ap- 
plauded the strip-teasers, even the plump and awkward ones 
who did apprentice turns before the stars came on. But the 
sad sleazy vaudeville acts by professionally nervous acrobats 
and mangy little high-keyed dogs depressed him and forced 
him to hide his face in his hands. Nevertheless, we stayed 
through the long repetitive show and then went on into Scol- 
lay Square and a series of slam-bang bars until closing time. 
It was one of those occasions when Dylan's capacity for being 
entertained showed as strongly as his gift for being entertain- 
ing. The honky-tonk floor shows we watched were, by almost 
any standard, unrelievedly sad spectacles. Yet Dylan looked 
on with none of the sophisticated indifference one might ex- 
pect, but with active delight and an odd feeling of concern. 
His sense of discrimination was professional and keen, and 
while he could only have been appalled by much that he saw, 
some unjudging witness within him allowed him to be identi- 
fied with the meanest and most vulgar of entertainers, so that 
he was happy when they succeeded and sad when they failed. 
Since Boston night life closes down early, he got a normal 
night of sleep after we returned about one, and the next day 
worked until late afternoon on Under Milk Wood, drinking 
beer out of cans, smoking incessantly, and stopping now and 
then to stare at the changing springtime light on Beacon Hill. 
Then, very carefully, we went over his selection of poems for 
the evening, when he was to read at the Fogg Museum at 
Harvard under the auspices of the Poets' Theater. He was un- 
commonly apprehensive about this evening, perhaps because 
he now had many friends and acquaintances in the Harvard 
community. In any case, he chose a large group of his best 

[ 195 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

reading pieces and put new touches to the little speech he 
was now in the custom of giving as an introduction. The 
large lecture hall of the Fogg was jammed to the doors. After 
he was presented to the audience by Howard Mumf ord Jones, 
he launched into one of his greatest reading performances 
and was rewarded with storms of applause between each 

After the reading, we were to go to the home of a lively 
young clergyman who had invited a number of people to a 
reception at his house just off Cambridge Common. As we 
drove there, Dylan sat silent, in dejection or deflation I 
could not tell which as I tried to cheer him by reporting 
my own enthusiasm for his superb performance. His sobriety 
continued throughout the reception. The effort of the reading 
and who knows what nameless other stresses or grimacing 
demons had put him into one of those states where his 
mind and body seemed impervious to the effects of liquor, so 
that he became unrecognizably passive, polite and preoc- 
cupied. Among the people he conversed with at some length 
was I. A. Richards, whom he had met only that evening and 
for whom he had long had great respect. Dr. Richards could 
not have known it, but in Dylan's mind he represented an- 
other world, another sphere of experience, another level of 
judgment. Just as Dylan harbored a conviction that certain 
persons, by circumstance of birth or fortune or both, were 
hermetically sealed away from him in the category of "the 
grand," he regarded eminent scholars and men of letters as 
something apart from his own concerns, and perhaps inimical 
to them. In the company of such men he gave the appear- 
ance of being amiable and intellectually at ease; actually he 
was never quite himself. It was as though he had to prepare 

[ 196 i 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

a face and to find a language that would be acceptable, to 
prove that Dylan Thomas was not only the confounding poet 
of dubious personal reputation but, as well, a scholar among 
scholars and a critic among critics. On such occasions I was 
reminded of his attitude toward his father which, it struck 
me, was of quite the same nature a combination of dutiful 
respect and jejune play-acting by which he disguised his 
buoyance and presented only a touchingly bookish version of 

When the reception broke up, Dylan came to life on his 
own terms. Seven or eight younger members of the party 
followed us to Cronin's, the Harvard undergraduate hang-out. 
We had been there only a few minutes when we were joined 
by an astonishing girl, unknown to anyone present, whose 
cheeks were painted geranium red and who wore substantial 
twigs of apple blossoms in her disheveled hair. She came at 
us out of nowhere, squeezed into our overcrowded booth, 
fixed her shining eyes on Dylan's face, and started to ask him 
questions about some of the poems he had read that evening. 
While her speech was vague and disconnected, Dylan at- 
tempted seriously to answer some of her questions, only to 
have her correct his statements. Unnerved, he shortly made 
indications to me that it was time to go and we quickly fled 
the nymph whose drilling eyes followed Dylan to the door. 
We hastened to another bar where, having recovered equilib- 
rium, our party showed signs of lasting out the night. I left 
sometime after one o'clock, certain that no power on earth 
could send Dylan to bed before daybreak. 

When I returned to the apartment about nine the next 
morning, I found that the all-night party had just ended, not 
only for Dylan who sprawled in bed quite naked, a night- 

[ 197 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

lamp blazing into his sleeping face, but for others who had 
slept in chairs and on the living-room couch. Just a few min- 
utes before my return they had picked themselves up and 
departed shakily back toward Harvard. 

Dylan slept late that morning. As soon as he was awake, he 
wanted a drink, not at home, but in a bar. We went to Har- 
vard Square to talk and, intermittently, to watch television 
until midafternoon. By now the unfinished Under Milk Wood 
had become a burden and a goad. Dylan tried valiantly to re- 
lax in the broad confidence that, somehow, it was going to be 
brought to conclusion; at the same time, certain ideas he 
wanted to incorporate into the work proved more trouble- 
some and evasive than he had anticipated. Part of the diffi- 
culty lay in getting back into the rhythm in which the play 
was originally conceived and written. It was as if he had the 
words but could not find the melody. The process of working 
in fits and starts between drinking bouts was one in which it 
was almost impossible to retain sight of the work as a whole. 
The constant telephoned urgings of Liz, who was already 
rehearsing the cast in New York, reminded him how much 
was still to be done, and kept him in a state of anxiety from 
which the only escape seemed to be another drink. While he 
reiterated through the length of many days that it was time 
for him to go to work, he was always ready, at his own or 
anyone else's suggestion, to leave his work table for the pleas- 
ures of the grimier side of downtown Boston. 

At one point in the afternoon I left him for twenty minutes 
or so when I went out to buy him a few shirts. When I re- 
turned, he was a man of new resolution. Putting down his 
glass, he said simply, Time for work/' We drove directly to 
the apartment, where he settled down at his windowside for 

[ 198 i 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

four uninterrupted hours. Afraid that even my presence in an- 
other room might be a distraction to him, I left him alone 
through the afternoon, but when I came back about seven he 
was eager to put down his fountain pen and go out again. We 
drove to an apartment off Harvard Square and were welcomed 
with acclaim into the sodden remains of what had earlier 
been a lively cocktail party. Here Dylan had to submit to the 
maudlin attentions of a tipsy schoolmistress and to be other- 
wise mauled and questioned by people too saturated with gin 
to know quite what they were doing or saying. I had seldom 
seen Dylan annoyed by drinking-party behavior and not 
once by the drunkenness of anyone but on this occasion his 
distaste was clear-cut and we left within half an hour. 

We drove into Boston where our first stop was a rowdy sailor 
bar which Dylan had discovered for himself on an evening 
around Scollay Square. There we listened to ballads sung fer- 
vently and badly by a buxom Italian girl whose acquaintance 
Dylan had made several nights before. At the time of their first 
meeting, she had come to his table between stints at the mi- 
crophone, and they had arranged to meet at closing time. But 
when closing time came, Dylan had found himself without 
money, and had left the bar without explanation. He had been 
brooding over this defection for days, and was hopeful now 
that some rapprochement would be possible. But as he sent 
pleading, hopeful looks in her direction only to find his song- 
stress ignoring him, he could only agree with her apparent 
decision to write him off as a bad bet. We listened to her sten- 
torious renditions and applauded them, but there was no joy in 
the occasion now that Dylan knew she was going to have 
nothing to do with him. It was another curious instance of 
the way in which Dylan could be sent into almost unshakable 

[ 199 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

depression a state in which his easily-tapped feelings of guilt 
were magnified and burdensome another occasion when he 
had to take the consequences of his default. It had apparently 
never occurred to him to explain to the girl just what had hap- 
pened. With no will to redeem himself, he sat in glum silence, 
his sense of mea culpa spoiling any last chance of the evening's 
success. What weighed most upon him was not having lost 
favor with the girl, whose attractions beyond her Sicilian 
milkmaid proportions were minimal, but his simple realiza- 
tion that he had insulted a human being who was most likely 
quite used to the insults of others. This hurt and humbled 
him, and opened up a reservoir of remorse out of all propor- 
tion to the incident which caused it. 

When he had wholly retreated into gloomy somnolence, 
glancing, doglike, now and then, at the girl as she whooped it 
up for the sailors standing around the circular bar, I wondered 
what could be done to cheer him. I took him to the Casino, 
just a block away, where the featured comedian was Irving 
Harmon, one of the few comic geniuses still on the burlesque 
circuit. This did the trick. Never had I seen Dylan more 
delighted as we watched the performance of Harmon, whose 
gimlet-eyed, small-town slicker expression and rocking chair 
gait show off a technique that combines the sophistication 
of a literate revue with straight vaudeville corn. This was 
Dylan's favorite kind of comedy and he was glowing when we 
left the late show. But all the bars were shut down now and, 
unless we were to take advantage of the after-hours drinking 
places the existence of which I had concealed from Dylan 
there was nothing to do but head homeward. For a second 
time he was in bed and asleep shortly after one o'clock. 

Under Milk Wood's first public hearing was scheduled for 

[ 200 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

the next evening, Sunday, May yd, with the Poet's Theater 
again serving as sponsor. Dylan was to read the still unfinished 
play in a solo performance. He worked on revisions and addi- 
tions from late morning until late afternoon, but when six 
o'clock came around he was ready for a party that had been ar- 
ranged in his honor at the home of a Cambridge portrait 
painter. There he drank moderately, chatted politely with a 
score of Cantabrigians, and was obviously mindful of the chal- 
lenge of the evening still to come. He refused my suggestion 
of supper between the party and the reading, and we were 
at the Fogg Museum lecture hall well before the scheduled 

His reading that night was again one of his memorable per- 
formances. As a solo piece, Under Milk Wood afforded him 
every opportunity to demonstrate his skill as a reader and, to 
the surprise of a great part of his audience, his ingenuity as an 
actor. He was continually interrupted by extended bursts of 
laughter, and the play proceded in an atmosphere of crackling 
excitement from its first solemn moments to its later passages of 
zany comedy and its final mellow embrace of a whole village 
of the living and the dead. As soon as he had left the platform, 
he said he needed a drink. We hurried to a bar before going 
on to a late evening party. He had exhausted himself again, 
but I could tell that, unlike his reactions to his first reading at 
Fogg, this time he was enormously pleased, and somewhat 
surprised, by the electric response to his lines, and in particu- 
lar by the long laughter evoked by the funny ones. From that 
time on his concern for the success of Under Milk Wood was 
deep and constant. He had, at last, heard in public perform- 
ance the response he had but dimly anticipated and hoped 
for in private. As a consequence, he seemed to have come 

[ 201 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

upon a whole new regard for himself as a dramatic writer. 

He left Cambridge the following morning for engagements 
in Washington and Lynchburg, Virginia, and I did not see 
him next until the following Thursday. Victor Weybright, pub- 
lisher of the New American Library, had invited scores of peo- 
ple to a party for Dylan at his New York apartment. Through 
an embarrassing mix-up, the P.E.N. Club's New York chapter 
had announced that Dylan would be the guest of honor at a 
reception they were giving at precisely the same time. I had 
accepted this latter date for Dylan weeks in advance of his 
coming to America. While I had told him of it and learned of 
his intention to accept it, and had later noted it in his diary, 
he had carelessly forgotten the engagement and agreed to 
Weybright's invitation. Then he had further complicated a tan- 
gled situation by accepting, unknown to me, reading engage- 
ments in the South. By a series of explanations and maneuvers 
we had managed to change the dates of his readings. But 
when I got to Weybright's party I was still apprehensive as to 
whether its guest of honor would show or not. 

As it turned out, Dylan's train was hours late and, while he 
had to forgo the gathering of the P.E.N. Club, he had not 
forgotten his commitment to Weybright and rang the doorbell 
just as the first departing guests were on their way out. His 
arrival gave new life to a party that had begun to grow a little 
dim with anticipation. His host, gruffly delighted, and per- 
haps vindicated, showed his pleasure as Dylan chatted in quiet 
animation over cocktails and made himself congenial to any- 
one who cared to address him. After he had made conversation 
with a number of people, including Michael Arlen, Jarmila 
Novotna of the Metropolitan Opera, the novelists Charles Jack- 
son, Gore Vidal, and Elizabeth Janeway, and with his pub- 

[ 202 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

Usher, James Laughlin, he relaxed on the floor with a few of us 
who had stayed until the end of the party. Around nine o'clock 
we left together with Arabel Porter, an editor of the New 
American Library, Howard Moss and Joseph Everingham, a 
friend of mine and Dylan's from Cambridge, to go downtown 
for hamburgers at Julius's. This was again the onset of a long 
night of bar-hopping. We went next to the crowded San Remo, 
where, notably, Dylan's presence was no longer a notable 
event, and then to the White Horse, where the usual crowd 
awaited his entrance. But since none of us either could or 
cared to keep up with him as the night went into its roaring 
phase, we had to leave him finally to his own more than ade- 
quate resources. 

He was in a bar near the Chelsea Hotel when Joe Evering- 
ham and I found him late the next morning. Oscar Williams, 
with a paper bag full of new anthologies, joined us there 
and we drank with him until one o'clock. Then I went to the 
Poetry Center to help put things in order for the first group 
reading of Under Milk Wood, the premiere performance of 
which was to be given only one week later. When Dylan 
joined me in the late afternoon, he had forgotten to bring not 
only the books and manuscripts from which he planned to 
read a program of poetry that evening, but even the suit 
he was going to wear. Leaving him to get on with the re- 
hearsal of his play, I taxied downtown to the Chelsea, gath- 
ered up his forgotten books and papers, canvassed the neigh- 
borhood to find the dry-cleaning establishment that had his 
suit (he had forgotten where he sent it) then returned to the 
Poetry Center. There I found him ruddy with pleasure in his 
co-actors, full of admiration for the skill they had brought to 
roles he felt could only have been played by Welshmen, and 

[ 203 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

bristling with new notions as to just how the play should be 
staged. His unexpected delight in his acting company pre- 
vented him from falling into the customary pre-reading slump. 
With Liz, we went to Rollie McKenna's apartment for a drink 
and a steak before returning for the evening's performance. 
Again the house was sold out, with many standees, and he read 
a long program in full command of his best gifts. 

A reading in Philadelphia came next; then four days later I 
was to meet his train at Back Bay station in Boston on my way 
home from Connecticut. When I got to the depot I encoun- 
tered Sarah in the waiting room. She had also come to meet 
Dylan. They had met again in New York and arranged to be 
together for the one day Dylan would be in Boston. I was 
naturally happy to see her, but also puzzled by the meaning of 
her appearance after so long a lapse of relations between 
them. Dylan's train pulled in as we strained for sight of him, 
but he was not among the scores of passengers who disem- 
barked. I phoned my apartment in the hope of some message 
and learned that a telegram had just arrived from Dylan say- 
ing that he was coming by plane. Sarah and I drove to the 
airport and got there just in time to see Dylan come swinging 
briskly down the ramp, briefcase in hand. He was wearing 
dark glasses, a new and ominous note, yet seemed to be quite 
steady on his feet. We drove to my apartment long enough for 
him to have a glass of beer and to put on a clean shirt, then 
were off to a cocktail party in a penthouse flat overlooking 
Boston Common. While this was just another party among 
a series of parties, the reappearance of Sarah provided an 
undercurrent of new interest to most people present and, to 
me, a new source of apprehensiveness I was reluctant to ac- 
knowledge. As far as I knew, Dylan had accepted Sarah's new 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

life with finality and something of a sense of relief. Not since 
our day in London on the river-bus excursion had he shown 
any sign of his feelings for her. I had not myself seen Sarah 
at any length since her return from Mexico. While I knew of 
her decision to end her marriage of hardly a year's duration, 
I had no real notion of her present feelings for Dylan or of 
the impulse that had led her once more to seek him out. In any 
case, I decided to follow my instincts and to remain apart from 
any second involvement that might be in the offing. 

I drove Dylan and Sarah to the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology for his reading at eight o'clock, then went off to 
dinner, planning to meet them later at another party in Cam- 
bridge. Though I merely looked in on this later gathering of 
some thirty or forty Boston literati, Harvard instructors and 
Poet's Theater personnel, I still had time to observe that Dylan 
and Sarah moved about as an intimate twosome and that a 
good part of conversation at the party was inquisitive gossip 
about them. When in the morning I drove him to the airport 
to catch a ten o'clock plane, he said he had stayed with Sarah 
in the apartment of a Cambridge acquaintance, offering no 
other comment except that he supposed she had already re- 
turned to New York on an earlier plane. He flew off to North 
Carolina, where he was to give a reading that night on the 
Duke University campus at Durham. 

By early afternoon of the next day he was back in Boston. 
Visibly wearied by the quick round-trip flight, he explained 
that he had been to bed for only two hours after staying up 
all night exchanging stories with a Welsh clergyman who was a 
member of the Duke faculty. Now we were about to start off 
directly for the University of Connecticut, ninety miles away, 
and another reading scheduled for eight o'clock. As we drove 

Dylan Thomas in America 

along, I broached to Dylan some notions and conjectures I had 
been harboring uneasily for a long time, and of which I had 
been meaning to tell him at the first appropriate moment. 
These had simply to do with my conviction that this constant 
series of readings was an undertaking insufficiently rewarding 
financially and seriously debilitating physically, quite apart 
from the fact that it kept him from creative connection with 
his poetry and threatened to turn him into a public enter- 
tainer. To correct this state of affairs, I suggested that we agree 
between us not to think of another such tour for years to come. 
I was certain that there were other ways in which he could 
make as much money as his readings brought him, and offered 
my services in any way that might assist him in money-making 
projects other than a series of readings. Whether these senti- 
ments impressed him or whether he merely read a new note 
of conviction in the tone in which I addressed them, Dylan 
responded with quiet seriousness and agreed with everything 
I said. Yet I remained wary of his true feelings, partly because 
I had long ago learned how easy it was to direct him and 
partly because I knew that his mind could be changed in a 
moment. While his agreement came readily, I felt this might 
be due to his having received only a few days before a fifteen- 
hundred-dollar advance on some unpublished fiction, or per- 
haps that it came out of the physical weariness of the previous 
few days which had brought him to a condition where noth- 
ing seemed more arduous than the thought of further travel. 
Nevertheless, I was glad that the matter had been brought up, 
and that there was at last opportunity to tell Dylan that I, at 
least, would do nothing to initiate another reading tour. 

We broke our trip to Connecticut by a stop in Sturbridge, to 
drink ale before the wood-burning fireplace of an old inn, and 

[ 206 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

arrived at the University just in time to spend an informal hour 
with the fourteen students of my graduate seminar in modern 
poetry. Here, as usual, he was charming and outgoing in his 
warmest manner and, as usual, tending to turn the more ear- 
nest questions of the students into jokes against himself and 
his work. But, just as often, he took great care to make lit- 
erary distinctions and to answer worthy questions in full 

This little interview provided another demonstration of his 
mercurial attitude when he had to face people as a personality 
rather than as a performer. If he sensed that his interviewers 
wanted him to be amusing, iconoclastic or whimsical, he had 
ways of satisfying each expectation. When he was addressed 
intelligently and knowledgeably, his answers were in kind. 
While these quick shifts of emphasis always made the inter- 
view lively, they were sometimes disconcerting, since cherubic 
playfulness one minute and critical sobriety the next tended 
to qualify any strict sense of him. 

We left the classroom with Leonard Dean, who took us to his 
house on Faculty Row where, in the warm spring evening, his 
wife, Dorothy, served us a light supper on the veranda. Our 
leisurely meal for Dylan, the only period of respite in 
many days was interrupted by a phone call from New York. 
It was Liz, suggesting that she come to the University in order 
to assist him in working. through the night on additions to Un- 
der Milk Wood. Dylan conveyed this rather alarming notion to 
me and asked me what I thought. Liz's suggestion, prompted 
by a necessity of which Dylan himself was well aware, did 
not strike me as feasible especially in view of his exhausting 
past few days but I asked him to make his own decision. He 
returned to the phone and, by promising faithfully to work 

Dylan Thomas in America 

until dawn, was able to convince Liz of his assiduous concern 
for the punctual completion of his manuscript. 

He gave a fine, full-voiced reading later that evening, and 
afterwards there was a brief reception. In spite of his good 
intentions, and the careful preparations his hosts had made to 
see that his bedroom was an adequate workroom, Dylan was 
asleep at a comparatively early hour. But when I came to call 
for him at seven the next morning, I found that he had been 
awake since dawn, scribbling on the little pieces of scratch- 
paper that made up a good part of the script of the play. We 
drove to Hartford, where we boarded a train for New York. 
A bottle of beer comfortably before him, Dylan worked on his 
snippets of manuscript in the club car en route. By the time 
we got to the Poetry Center, he had completed a whole new 
series of scenes on which the nervously waiting actors could 
begin. He rehearsed with his company Nancy Wickwire, 
Sada Stewart, Roy Poole, Al Collins and Dion Allen until 
late afternoon, then gave them a dinner-time rest. With a 
final run-through scheduled for seven-thirty, the first perform- 
ance of Under Milk Wood was to begin at eight-forty. Liz 
and Dylan went to Rollie McKenna's apartment close by, 
where I later joined them. With two typists in attendance, 
they worked from five until after seven. When new pieces 
of manuscript were finished, Dylan handed them to Liz, who 
looked them over, made the illegible parts legible, then 
handed them on to the typists. But in the middle of this frantic 
piecing and pruning, Dylan suddenly gave up. He was ill and 
weary, he said, he simply could not go on. Since the final third 
of the play was still unorganized and but partially written, 
Liz felt that the evening's performance would have to be 
called off, that she or I would have to go before the audience 

[ 208 i 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

and make an announcement to that effect. When she ex- 
pressed this to Dylan, he said it was unthinkable, absolutely 
unthinkable. He buckled down then, and in sober determina- 
tion finished up one scene after another. In spite of every last- 
gasp effort he had finally to give up the thought of completing 
the work in time for its premiere. But in these last minutes he 
devised a tentative conclusion that would serve. Twenty min- 
utes before curtain time, fragments of Under Milk Wood 
were still being handed to the actors as they applied make-up, 
read their telegrams and tested their new accents on one an- 
other. Some lines of dialogue did not actually come into the 
hands of the readers until they were already taking their places 
on stage. 

After I had made a short curtain speech to the packed audi- 
torium, I went around to the back of the house to stand beside 
a very tense Liz as the curtains opened. The stage was dim 
until a soft breath of a light showed Dylan's face: To begin at 
the beginning. . . ." One by one, the faces of the other actors 
came into view as the morning light of Milk Wood broadened 
and Dylan's voice, removed and godlike in tone, yet patheti- 
cally human in the details upon which it dwelt, made a story, 
a mosaic and an aubade of the beginning movements of a vil- 
lage day. Expectant, hushed, and not at all prepared to laugh, 
the audience seemed as deep in concentration as the actors 
on stage until, finally, unable not to recognize the obvious 
bawdy meaning of some of the play's early lines, two or three 
people laughed outright. But still there was a general uneasi- 
ness, an incomprehension, as if these outbursts had been mis- 
taken laughter. Then, as soon as it became evident that this 
story of a village was as funny as it was loving and solemn, 
a chain of laughter began and continued until the last line. 

[ 209 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

When the lights slowly faded and the night had swallowed up 
the last face and muffled the last voice in the village, there was 
an unexpected silence both on stage and off. The thousand 
spectators sat as if stunned, as if the slightest handclap might 
violate a spell. But within a few moments the lights went up 
and applause crescendoed and bravos were shouted by half 
the standing audience while the cast came back for curtain call 
after curtain call until, at the fifteenth of these, squat and 
boyish in his happily flustered modesty, Dylan stepped out 

Six days later, on May 2Oth, I drove to Amherst college in 
Massachusetts to meet Dylan after he had given a reading 
there and attended a beer party as the guest of a large crowd 
of undergraduates. When I registered at the Lord Jeffrey Inn 
in the late evening, I found a note at the reception desk asking 
me to come to the house of a member of the English depart- 
ment. Dylan was having a talk over a highball with a young 
professor and his wife when I joined them, and seemed unu- 
sually quiescent for that time of the evening. We stayed only 
a little while longer and went back to the Lord Jeffrey together. 
When I said good night and went to my room, Dylan had 
chosen a paper-backed detective story from a newsstand rack 
and was hungrily studying a large assortment of nickel candy 

When I rapped on his door about nine the next morning, 
Dylan was not there: he had already found a barroom and was 
in it. When (I could do it now almost by instinct) I had 
located him, he said that one beer was all he wanted just 
one beer and no breakfast. It was an enchanted New England 
morning, with acid-sharp sunlight filtering through old trees 

[ 210 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

around the village green and through masses of lilacs knocking 
against white clapboard houses. We got into my car, put the 
top down, drove slowly past Emily Dickinson's house, at which 
Dylan stared with no particular show of interest, and out into 
the rolling tentative early green of the countryside. Thus began 
an unhurried day of casual sightseeing and random talk 
which, later, on a number of occasions, Dylan remembered as 
his happiest in America. Except when he was rushing from 
one engagement to another and tense in the prospect of 
having to meet still other people and to face still another au- 
dience, he had never before seen the whiteness of New Eng- 
land, and it was a revelation. 

I avoided main highways as, with the whole day before us 
to spend at leisure, we began to drive eastward. While auto- 
mobile trips I had made with Dylan earlier had always turned 
into a tipsy progress from one drinking place to another, on 
this day we stopped but once, to have a beer in a ramshackle 
tavern on the edge of a shining little lake. Following wherever 
the winding back roads would take us, we slowly circled the 
greens of many villages, looked long at bone-white churches 
with gold-leafed steeples, and at old colonial houses freshly 
painted. It was a wonderful rare feeling to be suspended at 
leisure from the harassments of the schedule that seldom al- 
lowed us opportunity to be together except in its own relent- 
less terms, and we basked in its unfamiliar freedom. Dylan 
seemed more relaxed and happy than at any time I could re- 
member and perhaps no better proof of this was his showing 
only the mildest inclination for a drink. On a typical day he 
would have by this time consumed at least half a dozen bottles 
of beer. No small factor in his obvious contentment was the 
great success of Under Milk Wood in its first crucial test per- 

[ 211 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

formance. He could not disguise the satisfaction he took in its 
reception, and was looking forward to its next performance 
without anxiety. Already he had begun to think about another 
"play for voices" a work that would be designed for reading 
performance by himself and Nancy Wickwire, whose brilliant 
work had contributed so much to the unveiling of Under Milk 
Wood. This new play would begin not with words but with 
screams the screams of women in labor and of new-born 
babies; it would be concerned with the lives of two very ordi- 
nary people, a man and a woman who grow up in a Welsh 
industrial town. They live uneventful lives waiting for some 
fulfillment of their great capacity for life; and while, in the 
routine of their days and years, they pass close to one an- 
other hundreds of times, they never meet. But then, perhaps, 
Dylan added, perhaps they should meet, but just at the very 
end of the play, when it is all too late. It would be the love 
story of two people who were never to be lovers. 

We stopped to buy a basket of spring flowers at a roadside 
stand and, as we drove on, Dylan became reminiscent. He 
told me of his first meeting with Caitlin, and of the early days 
of their marriage. They first saw one another at a party in 
London a large loud party where they had talked for hours 
and promised to meet again. But when the party was over, 
Dylan found he had either neglected to record Caitlin's ad- 
dress, or had lost it. He went back to Swansea, where he had 
been doing newspaper work, counting only on chance to bring 
them together again. Some weeks later, he received a note 
from Richard Hughes, the novelist, who was then living in 
the village of Laugharne. Hughes, who had read and ad- 
mired a group of Dylan's first published poems, asked him to 
come for an afternoon visit. Flattered by the attention of so 

[ 212 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

famous a writer, Dylan one day asked a friend to drive him to 
Laugharne, about thirty miles away. While they were visiting 
with Hughes, Augustus John drove up to the house in his 
Rolls-Royce. With him, as usual, according to Dylan, was a 
beautiful young woman; this time his companion was Caitlin, 
a daughter of John's lifelong friend, Francis Macnamara. 

Dylan's friend drove back to Swansea without Dylan. Au- 
gustus John, after a teatime conversation with his host, also 
left without his companion. Dylan had found Caitlin again, 
and was not going to let her move out of his sight. They stayed 
on as Hughes's guests for days and did not leave until they 
had decided to be married. After they had taken their honey- 
moon on the south coast of England, they had to think of where 
they would establish their home. Since chance had reunited 
them in Laugharne, and since, for a decisively practical rea- 
son, Hughes, who was about to go abroad, offered them his 
house, they came back to Laugharne. There they found the 
Boat House and learned that it was to let. Not long after they 
had moved into the Boat House, Dylan's parents came from 
Swansea to occupy the Pelican. 

Our progress toward Boston became even slower as the day 
grew softly warm and we seemed always to be getting lost on 
roads that wound back upon themselves through flowering 
orchards and shining newly-plowed fields. Between long easy 
silences, our talk rambled too. I was particularly curious to 
know how he and Liz had managed to work so well together 
during the hectic weeks of the staging of Under Milk Wood. 
While they had both made a point of reporting to me the in- 
stant antipathy they had felt at their first meeting, for weeks 
now I had sensed that their mutual distaste had either been 
tempered or forgotten. In answer to my question as to how 

[ 213 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

they had finally got on, Dylan assured me that everything was 
changed. Liz was the most wonderful woman he had met in 
America. I might have convinced him of this from the begin- 
ning, he said, instead of having forced him to find out for him- 
self. I reminded him that I had spoken to him of Liz, but that 
his first impression of her had put him in no frame of mind 
to credit my praise. He admitted this was true, and told me 
that now she had not only taken charge of Under Milk 
Wood, but had also taken charge of him. She was his producer, 
his secretary and his girl. He did not elaborate, but I could tell 
by his rather secretly smiling reticence that he was happy 
about the change of circumstance, and that it was the telling 
clue to his curiously quiet state of mind. 

In Concord we stopped at an old inn for a lunch of sea food 
and white wine. We were now within forty minutes of Boston, 
but the suddenly increased traffic made us reluctant to go fur- 
ther. I suggested we pay a call on my friend, Norman Lindau, 
a man of sixty-odd years and a semi-invalid, at his sprawling 
old estate in nearby Bedford. We turned off the main road and 
drove up to the big low, vine-covered clapboard house. Nor- 
man, an avid reader and longstanding admirer of Dylan's, was 
totally unprepared for the visit and received us with pleasur- 
able astonishment. He and Dylan took to one another instantly, 
and were shortly deep in conversation about the novels of 
Carodac Evans and the works of other Welsh writers com- 
pletely unknown to me. When Norman's wife, Margaret, came 
in from her flower garden, she brought us highballs and sat 
down with us as Dylan, in his most mellow and beguiling man- 
ner, led the conversation for an hour or so. I could not help 
thinking how rare it was for anyone to see him in this light: 
polite, genial, witty, showing none of the thirsty restlessness 

September, 1952 ]une, 1953 

that seemed now to be the whole of his social reputation, he 
spoke modestly and entertainingly, sustained discourse without 
seeming to dominate it, and accepted the role of the distin- 
guished visitor without insisting upon it. Dylan's first talent 
for simple human relations, and his natural ability to give him- 
self to those who sought nothing from him, or from whom he 
could gain no advantage, was never more evident. 

When we got to Cambridge about five o'clock, Bill Read 
came to the apartment with huge T-bone steaks for Dylan 
who received the gift with zest. Continuing in his strange out- 
break of comparatively normal behavior, he consumed a full 
meal. He wanted to go out on a Scollay Square pub-crawl that 
evening just a very quiet one, he said, and without a lot of 
people in tow. Since I had tickets for a play, Dylan phoned 
Joe Everingham, his favorite Cambridge drinking companion, 
and they arranged to meet at a bar they knew and to carry on 
from there. 

I drove to my classes in Connecticut the next morning; when 
I returned in the late afternoon, I found Dylan pacing the 
floor in an entirely new and unexpected excitement, the reason 
for which I learned in one happy outburst. Igor Stravinsky had 
come to Boston to conduct performances of The Rake's Prog- 
ress. Through the music department of Boston University, 
which sponsored the local production of the opera, he had 
reached Dylan at my apartment to arrange an interview. 
Dylan had just now returned from the composer's bedside in 
his suite at the Sheraton Plaza. Stravinsky had not yet recov- 
ered from a psychosomatic upset induced by a performance of 
the opera during which, by his standards at least, everything 
had gone awry. When the cheering audience was calling for 
him after the final curtain, Stravinsky was alone in an alley 

[ 215 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

behind the theater being violently ill. Now, five days later, he 
was still recovering from the attack and the complications 
that had followed it. 

Aldous Huxley, who had initiated Stravinsky's collaboration 
with W. H. Auden on The Rakes Progress, had suggested that 
Dylan might well serve as librettist for a new operatic work. 
Dylan was immensely pleased and, I could see, not a little 
flattered to have been considered for this assignment. I had 
seldom observed him in so buoyant a state of creative agita- 
tion. In his talk with Stravinsky, they had outlined the idea 
on which they planned to proceed. They would do a "re- 
creation of the world" an opera about the only man and 
woman alive on earth. These creatures might be visitors from 
outer space who, by some cosmic mischance, find themselves 
on an earth recently devastated and silenced by global war- 
fare; or they might be earthlings who somehow have survived 
an atomic miscalculation. In either case, they would re- 
experience the whole awakening life of aboriginal man. They 
would make a new cosmogony. Confronted with a tree push- 
ing its way upward out of radio-active dust, they would have 
to name it, and learn its uses, and then proceed to find names 
and a definition for everything on earth. The landscape would 
be fantastic everything shaped and colored by the dreams 
of primitive man and even the rocks and trees would sing. 
The music would be utterly different from the formal sophisti- 
cation of The Rake's Progress a reversion, in operatic form, 
to the earlier Stravinsky of "Le Sacre du Printemps" and "L'Ot- 
seau de Feu." Smoking one cigarette after another, circling 
the room as if it were a cage, Dylan seemed imagination afire. 

Practically speaking, this collaboration would be commis- 
sioned by Boston University, and Dylan would be given an 

[ 216 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

advance big enough to relieve him of financial worry for many 
months. He would return to Wales, come back with Caitlin in 
July, and proceed directly to California. There he would stay 
and work with Stravinsky at his home in Hollywood; Caitlin 
would spend that time in San Francisco with their friend, 
Ruth Witt-Diamant. 

All this news was exhilarating, all the plans were wonderful 
just what Dylan needed to lift spirits that had become heavy 
under the press of too many engagements and under the pros- 
pect of a return to Wales where all the old financial problems 
would move in as inevitably as the tides in the estuary. We 
must make a gala of the evening, Dylan decided, and how 
better could we begin than by opening the bottle of vin rose 
Stravinsky had presented to him? Through dinner, Dylan 
made up one absurd opera plot after another and we toasted 
Stravinsky anew after each one as Dylan extolled the breath- 
taking movement of the composer's imagination and the child- 
like turns of his thought as he groped for English words in his 
thick Russian accent. 

Dinner over, we could do nothing but allow excitement to 
carry us out on the town. Johnnie Ray, then at the height of 
his career as a sobbing, floor-pounding minstrel, was the big 
attraction at an enormous night club in South Boston. By all 
means, we must go to hear him, said Dylan if only for 
Caitlin's sake: she had a crush on Johnnie Ray and listened to 
his recordings endlessly. It was apparent that Dylan himself 
was somehow fascinated by the singer. We drove to the jam- 
packed establishment, got a front-row table among some fif- 
teen hundred other devotees, and drank double-Scotches 
awaiting the entrance of the jukebox idol. At the carefully pre- 
pared moment, catapulted onto the stage in an ear-splitting 

[ 217 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

fanfare of songs he had himself made famous, he came at us 
roaring, moaning, beating his hands on the floor and clubbing 
the piano, holding a portable microphone in his hands as if it 
were a bride about to be ravished. As the cavernous room 
echoed the din of shrill screams and orgiastic sighs, Dylan 
shouted in my ear, "He's terrific! Fantastic!" And in a strange 
and evangelical way, he was. As Johnnie Ray tore, shredded 
and annihilated one song after another, Dylan applauded and 
cheered with the devastated shopgirls and, with the most in- 
satiable of them, called for half a dozen encores. But finally 
the lights were dimmed and the show was over. Exhausted, 
we drove to Scollay Square for a nightcap in the comparative 
quiet of a neon-red honky-tonk, and got home to bed about 

Next morning Dylan sang snatches of Madame Butterfly 
and Aida all the way to the airport and flew off to New York 
in the happiest of moods. 

Friends of hers and mine had invited Liz and Dylan and 
me to dinner before his Poetry Center reading the next eve- 
ning. When I joined them in an apartment high above Central 
Park West, I could see that Dylan was still buoyant and re- 
markably untroubled. For the only time I could remember, he 
showed no qualms about his reading, and instead of his usual 
beers even allowed himself several pre-performance highballs. 
When Liz and I taxied with him across Central Park, he had a 
moment or two of apprehension as he invoked his evil destiny 
and damned its eyes, but this time it was all more of a joke 
than the real thing, and we arrived singing. When he walked 
onto the stage of the Kaufmann Auditorium, he did so with a 
staunch confidence and a ramrod bearing that made him a 
happy caricature of himself. 

[ 218 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

William Faulkner was in the audience that night. When 
Dylan had finished a long reading, I brought Faulkner back- 
stage and introduced them. But the hubbub of visitors and 
autograph seekers allowed them no opportunity to talk. I sug- 
gested we retire to a bar nearby and, with seven or eight others 
in retinue, led them to a neighborhood Irish hangout. I did not 
sit at the table with Dylan and Faulkner, and cannot report 
what actually passed between them, but when I spoke to 
Dylan later he said that he found the man self-effacing and 
charming, quiet almost to a fault in manner, and that they 
had come upon no sustained conversation because others were 
always breaking in upon topics Faulkner himself had no zest 
to continue. After we had said good night to Faulkner, we 
finished the evening back at the apartment on Central Park 
West. Dylan got drunk very quickly, boomed and ranted in a 
happy excess of spirits, and was eventually escorted homeward 
in the competent hands of Liz. 

Three days later I went to see him at the Chelsea for what I 
believed would be my last visit with him before his scheduled 
flight back to England. I found him in bed with a broken arm 
and an attack of gout. Two nights before, he explained, while 
leaving a dinner party to attend a performance of Arthur 
Miller's The Crucible, he had fallen down a flight of stairs. 
Liz had been his efficient nurse ever since then, and she was 
with him now, determined that he stay in bed to rest and eat 
before his reading of Under Milk Wood that evening. Even 
though his goutish foot made him feel "as if I were walking 
on my eyeballs," he was cheerful and restless and wanted to 
go out. But Liz, who could apparently now make decisions 
he would accept, refused to hear of this. A group of people 
whose acquaintance Dylan had made when he lectured in 

[ 219 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Vermont came by to see him, but Liz pointedly allowed them 
only one drink and saw to it that they did not stay for long. It 
was a pleasure to me to find Dylan so well cared for and, in 
spite of his restlessness and his inveterate need to break the 
rules of health and deportment, I could see that it was a pleas- 
ure to him. While my own experience had put me in a position 
to understand that love for Dylan could only lead to a devas- 
tating denial of oneself, what this role would eventually cost 
Liz was not yet apparent to me, and perhaps not to her. 
Only when a close mutual friend of hers and mine made the 
situation clear to me did I realize that her care for Dylan and 
his utter dependence on her had led her into the same state of 
distraction I had known in my first few months with him. After 
our friend had twice suffered through the same experience, 
and had found both times that he could not impose on our 
actions his sounder judgment, he wryly pointed out the iden- 
tical ways in which each of us had been drawn out of our 
usual orbit of sanity into a maelstrom of doubts and anxieties 
in the calm center of which, blowing his bubbles, floated our 
beloved poet. 

On May 28th, Under Milk Wood, now enlarged beyond its 
first version, was given a resonantly beautiful performance, 
in spite of Dylan's having to nurse his broken arm which, for 
the duration of the reading, he carried in a black sling. But 
the strain of public performance was more intense than any- 
one in the audience might have guessed. His face went chalk- 
white and he became ill immediately afterwards. Liz and I 
quickly got him through a crowd of admirers, took him back to 
the Chelsea and put him to bed. Since he would be flying to 
London in a few days, again it was time for me to say good-by. 
While we had learned to make little of either hail or farewell 

[ 220 ] 

September, 1952 June, 1953 

over the years, I was acutely sad to be going away from him, 
especially now when he was so ill that even the briefest 
exchange of words was impossible. As he lay on his bed, I 
mumbled something about hoping to find him "loud and verti- 
cal" when next we would meet, probably in London or in 
Wales, and he mumbled back something apologetic, and 
smiled thinly, but with a sweetness that told me all was well 
between us. 

On the next day, in the course of treating him for his broken 
arm, Dr. Milton Feltenstein, who also succeeded in bringing 
Dylan absolute deliverance from the pain of recurrent gout, 
found occasion to talk seriously with him about the general 
state of his health. In the compounded misery of his several 
ailments, which now included a siege of alcoholic gastritis, 
Dylan responded soberly to the doctor's warnings, said he 
would act upon his advice to find a physician in London with 
whom he could work toward general physical rehabilitation. 
To demonstrate his new resolution Dylan gave up liquor for 
whole days at a time. While this abstention tended to leave 
him restive and bored, he was constantly active during the 
final days of his visit. With Liz he made a quick flight to Wash- 
ington to confer with the income tax office; spent all of one 
night making recordings of his poems for commercial distribu- 
tion; went to lunch with Samuel Barber, the composer; said 
good-by to friends, including Sarah, on visits to the White 
Horse Tavern; and shopped uptown and down to find a brace- 
let of Navajo silver to take to Caitlin as a present from Ameri- 
ica. Since his plane was due to take off on the morning of June 
3rd, the day after the coronation of Elizabeth II, I phoned him 
late in the evening to say farewell. He sounded dismally 
depressed again, and while he tried valiantly to put some 

Dylan Thomas in America 

cheerfulness into the few syllables he was capable of uttering, 
I sensed that he was once more in that state of despairing 
loneliness in which all of his responses were dimmed to the 
point of atrophy. Putting down the phone, I felt a sudden 
flood of old feelings of helplessness I had almost believed had 
retreated for good. 

[ 222 ] 

1953 : June September 

IN THE MIDDLE of June I received the following letter: 


Just arrived back here, fractured and barmy, to torpor 
and rain and Ivy's dungeon, and I've nothing to tell you 
except a thousand thankyous and how much I miss you. 
In spite of milk fever, bonebreak, some nausea, Carolina, 
old Captain Oscar Cohen, I enjoyed myself a lot, espe- 
cially in Cambridge and Boston. And thank your mother 
too for every kindness. 

I haven't heard yet about the opera, and wrote to 
Stravinsky only today, so I don't know yet any autumn 
plans. But there's an International Literary Spender-less 
Conference at Pittsburgh in October, to which I've been 
invited, and, though to hell with conferences, I shall 
quite likely go there on the way (I hope) to California 
via (somehow) Cambridge; and with Caitlin, too. 

I'm going to start work tomorrow and shall revise M ilk 
Wood for publication and broadcasting here. I'll also be 
seeing David Higham soon, and will get Milk Wood 
copyrighted as a play for public performance. Could you, 
then, d'you think, do something about getting it done 
across the States? And then, after finishing "In the Skin 
Trade," I want to begin on a new, and in one sense, 

Dylan Thomas in America 

proper-er, play. About this 111 tell in is it? August. 
Do write me, however briefly, though please not shortly. 


In subsequent letters to him I inquired into the progress of 
these plans, but no answer came. Late in July I sailed directly 
for Italy, having written Dylan that I looked forward to see- 
ing him in Wales early in September. This plan had come 
about through Cyrilly Abels, managing editor of Mademoi- 
selle. Having seen the premiere performance of Under Milk 
Wood she had enthusiastically bought first serial rights for 
publication in an early issue of her magazine, had asked me 
to do an accompanying article on Dylan's daily life in 
Laugharne, and had commissioned Rollie McKenna to take a 
series of photographs of the village and its countryside. 

On September 5th I joined Rollie in London. We set out late 
in the morning in a hired Hillman-Minx, drove leisurely 
across the western Midlands, and arrived in Laugharne in the 
long marine twilight. After parking the car at the end of the 
path by the sea wall, we loaded ourselves with photographic 
equipment, walked to the Boat House and picked our way 
carefully down the stony steps of the ragged garden. We could 
hear scratchy music on the wireless as we approached, and the 
sounds of children's voices with which the house was always 
humming. Surrounded by her brood, Caitlin opened the door 
to welcome us with the characteristic momentary shyness that 
always made her expression beautiful. Dylan was not at home, 
she informed us, but was awaiting our arrival at Browns Hotel; 
we would all go there for a drink before returning to dinner at 
the Boat House. 

Dylan was in the midst of a card game when we got to the 

1953- June September 

smoky, dimly lighted little pub. A Woodbine hung tremulously 
from his lips, and his brow, marked with a livid gash in the 
flesh above his right temple, was furrowed as he sat absorbed 
in his grimy handful of cards. He left his game to greet us 
and we sat down at a table under a naked light bulb. Ivy 
Williams chatted with us and served us Scotch; the other vil- 
lagers gave us shy looks and furtive, inscrutable smiles, and 
went on with their games of cards and tenpins. Dylan wanted 
to know just where I had been in Europe and whom I had 
seen, chided me for keeping posh company, and asked me 
how I could possibly bear the contrast between life on the 
Italian Riviera and life with him in the gloom of God-forsaken 
Laugharne. This was an old game between us and we played 
our familiar parts. While he had long ago seen every evidence 
that I would choose to be with him over every other acquaint- 
ance I had made in the course of my travels, he still found 
satisfaction in teasing me into an explicit statement of prefer- 
ence for which I could never find the words. 

He and Caitlin had recently been up to London for a holi- 
day. Tales of their visit set us off on gossip about people whom 
we knew there and in New York, and we all got merry and 
outrageously unkind. When in the course of things I had to ask 
him about the ugly gash over his eye, Dylan explained that it 
was the result of another fall, at night, when he had lost his 
footing somewhere along the dark passage from the pub to his 
doorstep. But the scar was healing rapidly now, and he seemed 
unconcerned about it. Two or three drinks later, having light- 
heartedly tried, condemned and dragged to the guillotine a 
number of inflated literary reputations, we were on our way 
through the dark sea-heavy evening toward the Boat House. 

Someone had made Caitlin the gift of a brace of wild duck. 
[ 225 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

To insure their proper preparation she had consulted a French 
cookbook. There she had been warned that the one offense 
against wild duck was overcooking; it was a delicacy best 
eaten as close to its natural state as possible. As we took our 
places at table in the close-quartered little dining room, where 
coals hissed in the grate against the chill evening, we were all 
prepared for a festive meal. Since Dylan was inefficient in 
the art of carving, Caitlin asked me to serve the duck. When 
the platter was set down before me, I merely touched one of the 
ducks with a carving knife when dark wine-colored blood 
spurted out. This did not seem right to me, but since everyone's 
eyes were expectantly fixed on the platter, I thought I could 
only try again. When I had made a second, very tentative, 
incision, another spurt of blood flowed out over what I could 
see now was nothing but gristle. The prospect of putting any 
of this into my mouth turned me pale. "What a bloody mess 
you've got there," Dylan said to Caitlin. "I cooked it just the 
way the bloody book said," she answered. Llewelyn, the only 
one of the children privileged to dine with adults, began to 
make faces from his corner of the table. Dylan told him to stop 
or he would be sent upstairs to bed. Attempting somehow 
to anesthetize myself against what I was doing, I persisted in 
my dissection of the little cadaver. When everyone had been 
served a clammy slice or a dripping leg, we all began to nib- 
ble courageously. "It's delicious," Caitlin announced through 
the laborious silence, "nothing wrong with this duck at all." "I 
can only eat it if I keep my eyes closed," said Llewelyn, and 
made a series of disgusting noises. "For God's sweet sake," 
said Dylan, "take that bloody thing off the table." Caitlin re- 
moved the offensive carcase and we filled up, finally, on vege- 
table greens and milk and gooseberry tart. 

[ 226 ] 

1 953 : J une September 

There had been a murder in the neighborhood of the Boat 
House a few months previous, and the terror of it was still on 
the village. An old woman had been knifed in the darkness 
by an unknown assailant. Circumstantial evidence had caused 
a deaf-mute to be apprehended, but no one felt at all sure that 
he was the real culprit. When I was about to escort Rollie 
to Dylan's mother's house, where she was to stay, both Dylan 
and Caitlin announced that we could by no means go there 
alone. I protested, but Dylan insisted that he accompany us, 
particularly since I would be returning alone. Rollie and Dylan 
and I walked hand in hand through the Stygian lanes, brushing 
against overhanging brambles that switched our eyes, tripping 
over stones and scaring ourselves further with fearsomely 
detailed horror stories as we went. On our walk back the 
first time we had been alone for many months Dylan asked 
about Liz and said that Caitlin was continually suspicious that 
he was receiving letters from her. Then he spoke of his un- 
happy restlessness through the long summer in Laugharne, 
and of his desperate attempts to remain anchored to his 
writing-table long enough to complete new poems. There was 
one new work that he thought might "go." This was a 
companion-piece to "Do not go gentle into that good night." 
While it started off in the same tone, it then changed abruptly 
toward a more syncopated use of metre and looser stanzaic 
organization. As we inched our way, step by step, down 
through the roots and brambles, he recited the first lines: 

Too proud to die, broken and blind he died 
The darkest way, and did not turn away, 
A cold, kind man brave in his buried pride 
On that darkest day. Oh, forever may 

[ 227 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

He live lightly, at last, on the last, crossed 
Hill, under the grass, in love, and there grow 
Young among the long flocks, and never lie lost 
Or still all the slow days of his death. . . . 

When we had come through the dangerous darkness un- 
scathed, I said good night and went to bed in Llewelyn's 
room, to read for a little while in a boy's book of adventure, 
and to wonder, as my thoughts went back to my previous 
visit to the Boat House, what storms were brewing, what crises 
to prepare for. 

After a long deep sleep I woke up in the reflected dazzle of 
the estuary. At the side of my bed stood silent little Colm with 
his agate-blue eyes and golden curls, staring at me as if I were 
Gulliver asleep. To my perhaps overly cheerful "Good morn- 
ing," I got no reply but a large-eyed slow examination of my 
face. As I continued to make one-sided conversation while I 
dressed, Colm studied me with distant judicial interest, then 
suddenly went babbling away with the dog, Mably, who had 
just come in with his lazy tail wagging expectantly. I went 
down to breakfast on the terrace with Dylan and Caitlin, ate 
kippers and toast with strong tea, and watched the skitterish 
movements of hundreds of sea birds wheeling through the 
sea-rinsed morning. 

For months now nothing had been said about coming to 
America again, and I had speculated why the enthusiasms of 
May and the projects outlined in Dylan's letter of June had 
been so quickly dismissed. As we lingered over the sunny 
breakfast table, I asked Dylan what his plans were. He said 
he was undecided. There were so many perplexing matters to 
take into account. The offer to come to the "Spender-less" 

[ 228 } 

*953 ; J une September 

conference in Pittsburgh had apparently been ill-timed or 
mistaken, since he had heard nothing further from the sponsor- 
ing organization whose plans, he recalled, had struck him as 
nebulous, even on paper. But the most disheartening news of 
all had come from Stravinsky: he had written that dealings 
with Boston University for the commission of a new opera had 
fallen through and that, for the present at least, no sponsorship 
would be forthcoming from that quarter. Meanwhile, Stravin- 
sky was looking for other sources of financial support. He 
wanted very much to go on with the ideas he had discussed 
with Dylan in Boston, and hoped he was still planning to come 
to Hollywood in the fall. Dylan's pleasure in the opportunity 
of working with Stravinsky was as strong as it had been on 
the day they met. But the prospect of having to bring this 
about by his own finances made the possibility remote. One 
other strong temptation from America was a letter sent by a 
lecture bureau, offering Dylan a transcontinental tour at fees 
astronomically far above those I had been able to get for him 
on the purely academic circuit. If he accepted this offer, his 
audiences would be of quite another stripe mostly women's 
clubs and "culture series" appearances. While this aspect of 
the offer was little inducement, the fat fees he might com- 
mand as a "personality" were a genuine allure. At home there 
was still another good possibility any day, he said, he might 
be given a high-salaried contract to work on the script of a 
new movie in London, a movie about the voyages of Ulysses. 
Against these developments, there was his determination to 
get on with his novel, Adventures in the Skin Trade, sections 
of which had already been purchased in America by New 
World Writing. He was anxious, too, to begin on that 
"proper-er" play he had mentioned in his last letter, and of 

[ 229 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

which he had told me on our springtime drive across Massa- 

Listening to Dylan's somewhat anguished account of so 
many uncertainties, I had one strong and simple reaction: he 
should stay in Laugharne and get on with his work. When he 
asked me what I thought he should do, I first of all tried to 
have him put aside the notion of another American reading 
tour of the sort he had completed only three months before. 
This, I felt, would be something to do again certainly, but at 
least not for four or five years hence. I had expressed this con- 
viction when we were together in April and, while I felt then 
that he had for the most part agreed with me, I sensed, now 
that he was back in Wales, beleaguered by financial worries 
and creative aridity, that almost any means of escape seemed 
attractive. I told him I felt he should try to stay in Laugharne, 
by whatever devices, and find his way back toward a working 
routine, adding that I was certain he knew that this would be 
best for him. And of course Dylan did know in his heart that 
his energies would be more properly directed toward remain- 
ing where he was than toward all the distractions that would 
come should he set about planning another busy adventure 
abroad. But he was in the same sort of mood of which he had 
written not long before: 

On no work of words now for three lean months in the bloody 
Belly of the rich year and the big purse of my body 
I bitterly take to task my poverty and craft: 

To take to give is all, return what is hungrily given 
Puffing the pounds of manna up through the dew to heaven, 
The lovely gift of the gab bangs back on a blind shaft. 

While he could easily admit the truth of his better instincts 
and could acknowledge that the rigorous patience they de- 

[ 230 ] 

J953-* J une September 

manded was essential, he had no confidence that he could 
force himself to remain at home to work, and no assurance of 
livelihood that would make such a decision tenable. To earn 
money he would have to spend a great deal of time in London. 
There he would have to work even harder and with less 
certainty of income than in America. When I could see that, 
in Dylan's mind, the idea of another tour was a real one, I 
spoke again my decision not to be involved in its arrange- 
ments. In giving substance to this decision I made little of my 
reluctance to commit myself to another six months of onerous 
correspondence, schedule-making and vicarious financial anx- 
iety, emphasizing only the harm I knew Dylan would be do- 
ing to himself. I had still never made clear to Dylan, except as 
a sort of conspiratorial joke between us, the devastation such 
responsibilities had brought to my general peace of mind and 
my attempts to get on with my own creative work. 

While we discussed these matters under high white clouds, 
in the soft warmth of late morning, a distant hiss and rumble 
resounded through the sea wind, and the whole house sud- 
denly went into a little fit of trembling. Dylan cursed. "I can't 
stay in this place!" He explained that Her Majesty's Govern- 
ment had recently established a testing range for guided mis- 
siles within earshot of Laugharne. As I soon learned, these 
whooshings and grumblings, and the sort of minor earthquake 
that shook the house after them, were apt to punctuate any 
time of the day. Dylan said he could never get used to 
them. "I know I won't do a bloody thing between now and 
Christmas. We've got to find another place to live, away 
from here away from London, too, somewhere on the sea, 
perhaps on the east coast." 

Through these outbursts, I was aware of a self-deceptive am- 
[ 231 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

biguity in Dylan I had frequently encountered before. It was 
not dishonesty, but a confusion of reasons overlying a sim- 
plicity of sentiment. One thing was clear. He did not want 
to condemn himself to months at home, even though staying 
at home would be the only way in which he could ever meet 
and begin to overcome the challenge that now, beyond all 
other known or unknown forces, dominated his existence. 
While he perhaps did not know the way toward his creative 
salvation, he did know ways in which creative exercise could 
be postponed or superseded. It was sadly apparent that 
Dylan's energies were directed not toward fighting through to 
freedom but toward escape from drudgery and the inadmissi- 
ble thought of failure. The draining forces of guilt, indolence, 
and onerous little commercial assignments, had brought him 
into a state of mortal anxiety. Desperation had so muddied his 
sense that even his most intimate relations were affected. He 
could not admit to himself, much less to Caitlin or to me, that 
he wanted above all to come back to America, and that he 
would come back to America. Attempting to give himself the 
certificate of reason, he seized on anything financial worries, 
guided missiles, or invitations from Hollywood that might 
support his assertion that he could no longer exist productively 
in Laugharne. I did not want to give in to his attempts to make 
his reasoning seem logical, even though I could see that his 
heart was set on getting away. But at last I did give in and 
so abetted his final effort to escape from himself. 

When it became obvious that he was waiting for my direc- 
tion, I became practical, point by point. If America was what 
he wanted most, these would be the justifying reasons: first, 
collaboration with Stravinsky on an opera might very well lead 
to the bettering of his yearly income for a long time; second, 

[ 232 ] 

J 953 ; J une September 

signing for a tour under the auspices of a high-powered lecture 
agency would mean that in ensuing seasons he could come to 
America and, in very short periods of time, earn enough money 
to support him through the whole year. If, as he thought, lack 
of money was the main factor that kept him from working, 
the thing to do was to get money. Nothing else, to my mind, 
could justify another trip to America. Dylan agreed. But, he 
asked, how was he to get to America and support himself 
there, and his family in Wales, while he was working with 
Stravinsky? I answered that, while I would not again under- 
take to plan a full-scale tour, I could of course offer him read- 
ings at the Poetry Center, not only of his poems, but further 
productions of Under Milk Wood. If the fees involved were 
not sufficient to underwrite his whole visit, I would reach out 
to get him engagements involving a moderate amount of 
travel along the Eastern Seaboard. 

Caitlin remained with us most of the time through this dis- 
cussion. When, every now and then, she left to attend to 
household duties, Dylan would call her back to listen to 
some new idea of his, or to have me repeat some notion of 
mine. I had the feeling that Dylan wanted to convince her that 
we were not engaged in any sort of complicity that might ex- 
clude or displease her. From the beginning of our discussions 
she had been outspoken in her reluctance to be left alone in 
Laugharne, no matter how brief Dylan's contemplated absence 
might be. When America entered the picture as a real possi- 
bility, they discussed the feasibility of her living in London 
with Colm while Dylan would be in California. Since both 
Llewelyn and Aeron would be off to school in late September, 
their welfare would not bring new problems. But Caitlin was 
not happy in this prospect and gave Dylan no encouragement 

[ 233 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

to entertain it further. I offered the suggestion that, if they 
would not mind traveling inexpensively across the Atlantic, 
they might be able to stretch things so that there would be 
just enough money to take care of them both. Dylan seemed 
pleased by this, and immediately tried to have Caitlin 
agree. But, wary, disbelieving, she held back. It struck me 
that she knew Dylan's real feelings were not his spoken 

It was a disheartening conference. I knew that no matter 
how deeply implicated I seemed to be in the issue we dis- 
cussed, no matter how assiduously Dylan asked for encourage- 
ment in every turn of the knotty problem, I was actually but 
superficially involved. Unable, as always, to resist Dylan's ap- 
peal for help, I had become party to an action I had deter- 
mined not to support. But at least I had made my feelings 
plain: against my better judgment I would act for him within 
the limited resources at my disposal. The dominant problem 
the endless, old and insoluble problem was money and how 
to get it. The problem of how to keep it seemed never to have 
entered anyone's head. Nonetheless, if an American trip could 
be viewed by both Dylan and Caitlin as an investment in 
future security, and if Dylan were determined that he could 
and would not write in Laugharne, I could only go along 
with him and offer my help. Should he finally decide to come 
over, I suggested that he plan to stay no longer than eight 
weeks about half of that time to be spent with Stravinsky, 
the rest to be given over to a few readings at the highest fees 
he might command. 

Just before noon we strolled into the village, where the high 
sun made the little pink-washed and white-washed houses 
look like candy houses, and went to visit Dylan's mother in 

[ *34 1 

J 953 ; J une September 

the Pelican. She moved about the house on two canes and, 
in spite of her long convalescence from a broken leg some 
months before, was as chipper and sweetly hospitable as I 
had remembered. Rollie had already been out with her cam- 
eras for hours. After a chat with Mrs. Thomas, Dylan and I 
retired into her small, air-tight parlor which had the atmos- 
phere of a room embalmed for generations. All of Dylan's 
books were kept here in a neat state of preservation, not only 
his own published works in plain and fancy British and Amer- 
ican editions, but also his schoolbooks and those he had read 
as a child. Our business there was an accounting of Dylan's 
American finances which the income tax board had demanded. 
When he had left New York in May, I had given him a com- 
plete record of earnings and expenditures from the hour of 
his arrival, but this had been lost. Fortunately, I had kept 
carbon copies, and had been led by some intuition to bring 
one of them to Wales. The only thing to do was to make a 
new copy. I settled myself in the little coffin of a parlor while 
Dylan went across the street to have a pint of bitter and pass a 
morning's gossip with Ivy Williams. Rollie returned from her 
reconnaissance of the village just as I was tediously completing 
long lists of figures. We called for Dylan at the Hotel and went 
back to the Boat House to have lunch in high sun on the 
terrace. Over our meal we again discussed the plans and pos- 
sibilities which had occupied us all morning. Both Dylan and 
Caitlin were still in a state of distressed uncertainty, and our 
talk was rambling and without the resolution that might have 
brought relief to us all. Rollie made photographs of our con- 
ference: the results show us independently absorbed, thought- 
ful, and not very happy. 

Our project for the afternoon was a drive into the country- 

[ *35 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

side of Dylan's childhood to the places he visited in the 
summers when his Aunt Annie Jones was still alive, the land- 
scape of "Fern Hill." Caitlin said she preferred not to join our 
excursion. We called for Dylan's mother and set out toward 
St. Clears. There we gained the road leading into Carmarthen 
and drove a few miles before turning off at Banc-y-felin. The 
day was blue, the country still in its midsummer green. Mrs. 
Thomas entertained us with a flow of anecdotes of gentry and 
yeomanry, called Dylan's attention to a hundred houses or 
woodlands or chapels, and seemed altogether delighted in her 
role of cicerone. In Llanybri we stopped for ices we ot in a 
shop and brought to the car. Villagers passing by recognized 
Mrs. Thomas and stopped to chat. "These are Dylan's friends," 
she would tell them, "they've come all the way from America 
to see my boy." 

Outside the village we stopped by the hilltop church one can 
see from the Boat House the one which Dylan had in mind 
when he wrote, "Pale rain over the dwindling harbour /And 
over the sea wet church the size of a snail /With its horns 
through mist" and walked in pastures around it to look back 
on Laugharne and to pick out through the distance landmarks 
we had come to know. From Llanybri we soon came to Fern 
Hill, the highland farm where Dylan spent long childhood 
holidays with his now deceased aunt and uncle. A yellow- 
washed wall glowing in the afternoon light hid nearly all of the 
house from the road. As we drew up, the new owner and his 
dog came out, as if by appointment. When Mrs. Thomas had 
introduced us, he led us through a little fine-graveled court- 
yard and into the house by way of a tiny conservatory roseate 
with giant geraniums. From the rafters of the dining room 
great sides of cured bacon hung in neat rows above heavy dark 

[ 236 i 

*953 ; J une September 

tables and chairs, and a glinting exhibition of blue and white 
china. When our host suggested we wander through the house 
at our own pleasure, Dylan led Rollie and me through a series 
of curiously antiseptic and lifeless rooms. In the parlor, that 
memorable room of "a stuffed fox and a stale fern" where, once, 
Dylan was "a desolate boy who slits his throat/In the dark of 
the coffin and sheds dry leaves," there stood now only a few 
overstuffed pieces of mail-order furniture. It all seemed much 
smaller and emptier than he remembered, Dylan said, and I 
could see that he was becoming nostalgic and unhappily 
thoughtful in this pilgrimage to a house memory and imagina- 
tion had furnished so differently. We went then through the 
front door out onto a greensward hedged by boxwood, walked 
halfway around the house, and into a sprawling old orchard 
where rotting apples lay by the hundreds under gnarled trees, 
and out onto the spongy turf of surrounding pastures. Seen 
from a little distance, the house assumed a simple beauty, 
black shutters against yellow-wash giving it the appearance of 
a child's drawing of a house. The high-domed barn was still as 
it used to be, and the long sloping view through heavy air reso- 
nant with far-off chapel bells and the lowings of cattle. We 
picked red and yellow apples from boughs that almost touched 
the ground, munched on them as we walked, and Dylan told 
us stories about people who had lived at Fern Hill about a 
hangman who, overcome with remorse for his long career as 
master of the gallows, had hanged himself; and about his roist- 
ering uncle whose fabulous drunkenness had made him the 
terror of the district. But the experience of Fern Hill so many 
years after his last visit had saddened Dylan, and he remarked 
many times how shrivelled and colorless everything now 
seemed. These were, after all, the same fields where 

Dylan Thomas in America 

the blue altered sky 
Streamed again a wonder of summer 

With apples 
Pears and red currants 
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's 
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother 
Through the parables 

Of sun light 
And the legends of the green chapels 

And the twice told fields of infancy 

That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine. 
These were the woods the river and sea 

Where a boy 
In the listening 

Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy 
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide. 

When we came back to the car after our rambling tour of the 
farm, Rollie took shots of Mrs. Thomas and Dylan as they 
chatted with the congenial new owner, and then we drove to 
the village of Llanstephan and on to Lords Park. Mrs. Thomas 
seemed as happy as a baby in a pram when we left her in the 
car to saunter a while through tall groves of druidical trees, to 
stare at the moss-grown ruins of a castle, and to watch from a 
distance the movements of a few solitary bathers on the long 
strand at the point where the River Towy flows into Carmar- 
then Bay. But there was nothing to linger over, and we soon 
went on to pay a call to distant relatives of Dylan's in their 
ancient homestead. 

To get there we had to turn off the macadam road and follow 
a wagon track uphill. At the top of the rise we turned into a 
mud-filled farmyard surrounded by big and small buildings 
stark with new whitewash. A cluster of people, from infants to 

[ 238 i 

*953 ; J une September 

withered crones, suddenly popped out of half a dozen doors to 
look at us with curiosity, and then to welcome us. Since Rollie 
was anxious to get some pictures, we left Mrs. Thomas to the 
women, who led her into the main house, and went with Dylan 
and an old man to wander the surrounding pastures. We could 
not understand a word of our guide's English, but Dylan 
seemed to, so we left all conversation to them. Sinking in the 
soaked fields up to our ankles, we followed the old man as he 
limped along on his staff, found little of special interest to 
photograph, and returned through mounds of "house-high hay" 
around which white chickens pecked and scratched. Inside the 
bare, scrubbed kitchen with its fireplace big enough for five 
men to stand abreast in, its hanging sides of bacon, great 
black iron pots and witches' brooms, we were given large cups 
of warm milk out of a pail brought in by a red-faced milkmaid. 
We drank it, bravely, and were surprised to find we liked it. 
Four women, gathered in a semicircle, chatted with Mrs. 
Thomas. While we could make out but snatches of their Welsh- 
accented English, we could tell by their kindly but curious 
glances toward us that we were at least part of their conversa- 
tion. The fifth woman of the farm, the matriarch of the family, 
remained in an adjoining room. When she was ready to receive 
us, we were led by Mrs. Thomas, proceeding slowly and almost 
ritualistically on her two canes, into her presence. We were told 
that she was ninety-six years old, quite deaf and unable to 
speak a word of English. As she sat in the reflected glint of long 
shelves of heirloom china, her shriveled little body entirely 
covered in a Spanish profusion of rich black silks, she addressed 
us with an interest and pleasure that made a kind of benedic- 
tion. Deeply moved by the dignity of the woman and the 
power of matriarchy that sustained her bearing, we could only 

Dylan Thomas in America 

bow and smile and somehow try to convey our respects. 
Through Mrs. Thomas, who acted as interpreter, she extended 
an invitation to stay for tea. Mrs. Thomas felt we could not re- 
fuse, and we could see that she herself wanted us to accept. 
But Dylan demurred, partly on his own account and partly, we 
supposed, because he knew we wanted to take advantage of 
the early evening light for more photographs in the region. 

Everyone attended our departure, and we waved to figures 
in all the doorways as we drove out of the yard and down the 
wagon-rutted hill. Not far along the bramble-lined road we 
came to a little gray house. A smiling old man in an unblocked 
felt hat that made him seem taller than he was by a whole foot 
was standing by his gate. Mrs. Thomas said, "There's old Tom, 
my brother. We'll have to stop." As we drew up alongside the 
sagging wooden fence, she spoke to him through the open win- 
dow of the car. Looking puzzled, he merely smiled. Then 
Dylan realized that, since Mrs. Thomas was wearing sun- 
glasses, her brother did not recognize her. When she took the 
glasses off, he grinned broadly but still did not seem disposed 
to speak. Mrs. Thomas asked him a number of questions in 
quick succession, but his answers were mumbled and inaudible. 
Undaunted, she went on, promising to come over soon to help 
him out, reporting the names of some of the people we had 
encountered on our drive, and asking about the health of rela- 
tives. Then she waved him a blessing and we drove off. Tom, 
she explained, had lived alone ever since the death of his wife 
forty years ago. Once a year she came over to his house to help 
him put things in order. 

Near Llanybri again we stopped close by a gray chapel sur- 
rounded by a graveyard in which stone crosses and wind- 
smoothed gray slabs stood in little huddles. The sun was low in 

*953 ; June September 

the sea now, and the music of hymns from the evening service 
floated over the windless hilltop. This was the burial place of 
all of Dylan's maternal ancestors. When we left the car and 
walked toward the crowded gravestones, Dylan and his mother 
went ahead. Proceeding slowly on her canes, she paid respects 
to one grave after another, pointing out to Dylan names he 
had probably forgotten. The newest inscription, outlined in 
shining gold that seemed inordinately bright among the uni- 
formly weathered grayness, was the name of Anne Jones. 
Dylan followed after his mother silently, listening to her little 
stories of the dead. Mrs. Thomas moved staunchly yet labo- 
riously, her eyes wet as she now and then looked away from a 
grave and into the yellowing distance, her words to Dylan 
merely informative, betraying little of what we could tell she 
was feeling. In the cool evening sun, each with his own 
thoughts, we stood in a glassy silence. The only sounds coming 
into our meditations were a rumor of vespers from the chapel, a 
low chorus of voices answering one voice, and the sweet whis- 
tling cries of swallows as they wheeled and dipped over the 

The drive homeward, over the Coomb, into St. Clears and 
across a little stone bridge over the River Taf, was lighted 
operatically by a long gaudy afterglow that colored our faces as 
we caught glimpses of the sea from the many hilltops we 
climbed and descended. Mrs. Thomas, sprightly again, 
laughed with Dylan as they recounted old stories the day's 
visits had recalled, and waved greetings to friends who, in their 
Sunday best, stood by gateposts or fished from bridges. We 
came back to Laugharne at dusk. Except for a single glass of 
beer at Browns Hotel in the late morning, Dylan had had 
nothing to drink all day. This fact seemed memorable re- 

Dylan Thomas in America 

minding me of the long day in the Massachusetts countryside 
we had spent together when he showed neither the desire nor, 
apparently, the need for alcohol. My understanding of just 
what it was that led Dylan to overindulgence at almost all 
other times was again confused. 

When we had seen Mrs. Thomas to the doorstep of the 
Pelican, we dropped by at Ivy Williams's. She took us into the 
kitchen that was always comfortable with gurglings and rum- 
blings, and served us a pint before the card players arrived, 
settling themselves by habit around the oilcloth-covered table. 
Leaving Dylan to sit in on a game of nap, Rollie and I went to 
join two fishermen who had that morning offered to take us 
out onto the tidal flats. These were villagers whom, once, 
Dylan had described: "Out there, crow black, men tackled 
with clouds, who kneel to the sunset nets." When they mounted 
a motorcycle, we sped after them on a road running through 
darkening sand dunes, then walked with them in our bare 
feet through the cold sand scabrous with cockles for nearly 
a mile into the sea. There they picked up the silvery wrig- 
gling fish, mostly plaice, that had become ensnared in the 
little fencelike nets, and plopped them into burlap bags 
slung over their shoulders. When we got back to the Boat 
House, Dylan had returned from the pub and was listening to 
news on the wireless. We wanned our benumbed feet at the 
grate fire in the dining room and Caitlin served us heavy soup 
and bread. Then she brought in an enormous tin pail of cock- 
les, which we cracked open and ate by the hundreds. 

Dylan was still asleep when I went into the village early the 
next morning. At the Pelican I found Mrs. Thomas and Aeron 
in bed together, propped up on huge downy pillows, having a 
morning's chat with Rollie. While Aeron made drawings with 

[ 242 ] 

J 953 ; J une September 

her crayon set, among which was a picture of a princess who 
looked for all the world just like her grandmother, Rollie and I 
had breakfast on trays, talked with Mrs. Thomas of Dylan and 
America and showed her a number of photographs of Dylan 
that had been taken in New York. Since the morning sun was 
good, we then set out to make an attempt at documentary 
coverage of Laugharne. We climbed brambled walls, peeked 
into gardens, moseyed through narrow lanes, and otherwise in- 
sinuated ourselves into every nook and cranny, from the 
muddy edge of the estuary to the top of the hill from which the 
shining roofs and gables made patterns that sometimes looked 
medieval and sometimes cubist. We got many suspicious 
glances as we went and, at times, found that whole streets 
would suddenly be shut up against us. Trying to look harmless 
and genial, we patted the heads of dogs and spoke to those 
children who had not been snatched inside by wary mothers. 
But the evil eye of the camera could not be concealed or the 
threat of its spell overcome. For half of the time we went like 

Lunch at the Boat House was occasion for another long dis- 
cussion of uncertainties. It was quite apparent now that we 
would come to no firm resolution before Rollie and I would 
have to return to London that evening. Dylan's mind was really 
quite made up, I felt, and he would come to America against 
all hazards, but this decision would not be announced until he 
had conferred with Caitlin and found some means of over- 
coming her intransigence. I felt, in any case, that the difficulty 
in coming to a decision was due only partly to the many trou- 
blesome practical considerations that had to be taken into ac- 
count, and more deeply to some basic disagreement between 
them for which present issues offered but a new focus. When 

Dylan Thomas in America 

lunch was over, all three of the children walked with us into 
the village to have their pictures taken with their grandmother. 
The most promising background we could find was an old 
gnarled apple tree in the kitchen garden of the Pelican. There, 
in the checkered shade of a summery afternoon, with the whole 
family gathered on or about a green bench, Rollie took a series 
of group portraits. During the sitting, Aeron became cross and 
irritable, announcing that she was going back into the house. 
Her grandmother calmed her with a kindly but stern admoni- 
tion, and soon everyone was looking expectantly into the eye 
of the Leica. Dylan, perhaps momentarily overwhelmed by his 
position as paterfamilias, was cooperative and interested, yet 
seemed rather expressionless and had little to say. His notably 
quiet manner may have been simple deference to Rollie and 
the family scene she was bent on capturing. Yet one cannot 
help thinking that there was a solemnity in the event of which 
he was wholly conscious. 

Now it was time for Rollie and me to set off for London. Sur- 
rounded by three generations of Thomases, we piled into the 
little car and drove off to a chorus of good-bys and the excited 
barking of the dog, Mably, who had had his picture taken, 

When, according to plan, I phoned Dylan at home two days 
later, he said it looked as though he and Caitlin would be com- 
ing to America, the only thing standing in the way of the trip 
being the slim chance that the film-script job might at any min- 
ute be offered to him. Caitlin was still less than enthusiastic 
about the venture, he reported, but was willing to come with 
him rather than put up with a makeshift life in London during 
his absence. He would hear for certain within twenty-four 
hours, he expected, and would phone me at once. Next morn- 

[ *44 1 

*953 : J une September 

ing, I was writing pre-sailing letters in the lobby of my hotel 
when I was paged to come to the phone. The film deal had 
fallen through, Dylan said; he and Caitlin would definitely 
come to New York about the middle of October. He asked me 
to proceed with the travel arrangements we had discussed, and 
confirmed our earlier understanding of the range and purpose 
of the American visit: performances of Under Milk Wood at 
the Poetry Center and perhaps elsewhere, a few readings of his 
poems at high fees, a month or so with Stravinsky in California, 
then home by Christmas with the hope that the future might 
be financially easier. 

1953 : September November 

WHEN i SAILED for home that night my thoughts were 
ambivalent: if I was sorry that Dylan had not heeded my 
judgment, I was pleased he had sought my encouragement, 
especially as it seemed that the decisions he had arrived at 
were likely to lead to a sweeping change in his financial cir- 
cumstances; yet his irascible temper and the mental turbulence 
of which it was a sign, left me doubtful and uneasy because I 
knew that its underlying stresses would be removed neither by 
money, mobility, nor public acclaim, and certainly not by the 
scattering of his talent into purchasable fragments. Neverthe- 
less we had made our commitments. As soon as I was home in 
Cambridge, I went to a travel agent to arrange passage for 
Dylan and Caitlin. From him, I learned that it would be im- 
possible to obtain berths in tourist class accommodations for 
mid-October still the "high" season for westward crossings 
without delay and uncertainty. Since the first performance of 
Under Milk Wood was now scheduled to be the opening event 
of the Poetry Center season on October 24th, I had to make a 
quick decision. I cabled Dylan, asking if he would consider 
flying over alone, with Caitlin following by the first ship on 
which I might be able to book passage. He cabled back that 

[ 246 i 

1Q53-* September November 

he was coming alone. From the meager phrasing of this answer 
I could not tell whether Caitlin had altogether given up her in- 
tention of coming, or whether Dylan had simply recognized the 
expedience of his coming by air in order to meet his first en- 

A plane ticket was forwarded to him by the travel agency; he 
was due to arrive in New York on the morning of October 14th. 
Liz was planning to meet him at Idlewild, but when she 
checked with the airline, Dylan's name was not on the pas- 
senger list. Three days went by without news of him. As we 
later learned, he was already in London and ready to depart 
when his ticket was just being delivered in Laugharne. On 
October ijth I received a cable: 


When he finally arrived, complaining of the heat yet wearing 
a prickly camel's-hair scarf and a rug-heavy suit, Liz was there 
to greet him. He wanted a drink "right off," but as they ap- 
proached the airport bar they found it was being picketed for 
alleged nonunion practices. Dylan's thirst was so great that he 
was willing to put aside compunctions he would normally have 
considered binding. But if he was ready to cross the picket 
line, Liz was not. When he could see that she was adamant, he 
gave up. "All right," he said, "but only for you and the Rights 
of Man." As they got into the taxi for Manhattan, Dylan sank 
back with a tremendous sigh. His visit in London, he said, "was 
the worst week of my entire life." Caitlin had been with him, 
and now that his American trip had led to just the makeshift 
situation she had most wanted to avoid, mutual unhappiness 
and guilt had caused continual dissension. But he was curiously 

[ 247 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

preoccupied by something that had happened on the flight: an 
Irish priest from New York, returning from a visit to his home- 
land, had boarded the plane roaring drunk at Shannon. When 
he continued to drink and, to the distress of other passengers, 
became garrulous and increasingly obstreperous, the stew- 
ardess had declared the bar closed to his orders. Without liquor, 
he soon had an attack of delirium tremens, and had finally to 
be bound and shut in the men's room. He was kept prisoner 
there until, at Gander, he was taken off the plane in the care of 
a physician. While Dylan made some grim comedy of his re- 
port of the incident, he was perhaps as shaken by it as he was 

At the Chelsea, he discovered that the reservations I had 
made for him had been canceled because of his three-day tar- 
diness, and that, for several days at least, none of the large, 
bright rooms facing onto Twenty-third Street would be avail- 
able. He was given a small room in the rear of the hotel. While 
he seldom seemed to pay the slightest attention to his living 
quarters anywhere, being put into a small dark room when he 
had become used to the best in the house upset him inordi- 
nately and made him sullen. But a drink with Liz at the Silver 
Rail on Seventh Avenue soon pulled him out of his sudden 
depression. After they had had a quiet dinner at a Spanish 
restaurant in the Village, he was in a sober and serious mood 
for a rehearsal of the newly revised and now fairly complete 
play-script. To the actors, who not only held him in warm af- 
fection as a person but who showed an almost awed respect for 
his ingenuity as a man of the theatre, his presence was magic. 
Under his direction, the new version of Under Milk Wood fairly 
leaped into shape. After the rehearsal, which had put him into 
the mellowest of humors, Dylan wanted to visit the White 

[ 248 ] 

1953 September November 

Horse; with Liz and a young poet friend of his he stayed there 
in quiet conversation until two. 

On the next morning, as he and Liz were walking toward the 
Village from Twenty-third Street, he spotted a billboard poster 
advertising a new movie, Houdini. Dylan called Liz's atten- 
tion to the sign, remarking that the great magician had always 
fascinated him, particularly for his fabulous escapes from the 
many ingenious traps that he had allowed to be devised for 
him. The worst horror in life, said Dylan, the horror beyond 
horrors, was the sense of being hopelessly trapped. It was a 
subject he was going to write about in fact, he said, he was 
already well along into a prose-piece about an "escape artist." 
"Autobiographical?" asked Liz, and Dylan smiled and said, 
"You know me too well." 

In the middle of the afternoon, after he had gone to have a 
few drinks by himself in Julius's, Liz rejoined him. But he said 
he was feeling unwell, that perhaps he had better return to the 
hotel to rest. Liz accompanied him, sat with him through the 
remainder of the afternoon, and later went out to a nearby 
delicatessen to get him a light supper. After he had eaten, he 
said he felt he could sleep, and she left him in the early eve- 
ning. Before he closed his eyes, he turned to her and said with 
a weak smile: "It looks as though I'm putting you on as nurse 
awfully quickly . . . but no," his expression became thought- 
fully sober and his voice remote, as if he were addressing only 
himself, "no, not my nurse, not my secretary my friend, my 
real friend." 

He slept late the next morning and was sober and profes- 
sionally concentrated when the next rehearsal of Under Milk 
Wood took place in the afternoon. Later in the day, he went to 
a Yorkville bar with Liz and a British photographer, drank 

Dylan Thomas in America 

moderately, and shortly announced that he wanted to have a 
good meal. They taxied downtown to Herdt's, on Sixth Avenue 
near Fourteenth Street. There he ate an enormous dinner a 
dinner which, in the course of events, was to be his last full 
meal. Continuing in the ingratiating sobriety he had shown 
through the day, he mentioned repeatedly, yet without ex- 
planation, his immense relief in having "escaped" from Lon- 

Liz met him for lunch the next day at a sea-food restaurant 
near the Chelsea. But the food so displeased him that he went 
into a rage a most unusual thing for him to do under any cir- 
cumstance and would not eat a bite. While he sulked and 
fumed after his outburst, it became obvious to Liz that Dylan 
was in an acute state of nervous agitation; she walked back 
with him to the hotel where, ostensibly, he was going to settle 
down to work further on his script. 

Two or three hours later, she phoned him from her office. 
Dylan answered in a voice barely audible; apparently he had 
become stupefied with drink. Alarmed, Liz hurried to the ho- 
tel. There she found him with a group of people from Cinema 
16 who had come to arrange for his appearance on a sympo- 
sium they were sponsoring. Also in the room was an eminent 
literary critic whose work Dylan much admired, and who had 
simply dropped by to talk with him. But when Liz could see 
that the critic's visit had only led to heavier drinking, that 
Dylan was now completely intoxicated and quite out of con- 
nection with his company, she asked all of the visitors to leave. 
She persuaded Dylan to rest, then, and, within a few hours, 
he had returned to comparative sobriety, and was able to work 
on new scenes of the play. He dictated to Liz new passages 

2 953 ; September November 

which, in spite of his shaky condition, were composed on the 
instant. All of these remained as part of the finished work. 

Early in the evening they went together to rehearsal, but by 
the time they had reached the auditorium, Dylan said he felt 
too ill to participate. Herb Hannum, an architect whose ac- 
quaintance Dylan had made more than a year before, and for 
whom he had since developed a deep affection, had come to 
the Poetry Center to go out with them afterwards. While Dylan 
remained in Herb's care, Liz went on stage to read his lines 
while he attempted to rest on a couch in the Green Room. 
When he had first walked into the auditorium that evening, 
Dylan had said that he found the place stifling hot; but within 
a few minutes he said that he was freezing, that he couldn't get 
warm enough. Herb covered him with overcoats borrowed 
from the dressing room, but Dylan said he was still shivering 
cold. When he dozed off for perhaps fifteen minutes, Herb 
went out to bring him food clam chowder and crackers and 
coffee and, in the hope of making him warm, brandy and hot 
water-bottles. Dylan accepted these ministrations "like a 
baby," according to Herb, but could not fall asleep or be rid of 
his spasmodic restlessness. Sitting upright every few minutes, 
he would say, "What's going on? What part are they reading 

At a rehearsal-break, Liz came back to type up new sections 
of the script. Dylan told her that he would join the actors, to 
read "the new stuff," when the rehearsal was called. Doubtful, 
she asked him if he really felt capable of reading. Dylan an- 
swered yes, firmly, and went on stage to read with his company 
through the final twenty minutes of the play. When he returned 
to the Green Room he became nauseated and had to vomit, 
retching so violently that he lost his balance and fell to the 

[ 251 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

floor. When Herb had helped him back onto his feet, Dylan, 
gasping, leaned against the wall. "I can't do anything any 

more," he said. "I'm too tired to do anything. I can't , I 

can't eat, I can't drink I'm even too tired to sleep." He lay 
down on the couch. "I have seen the gates of hell tonight/' he 
said. "Oh, but I do want to go on for another ten years any- 
way. But not as a bloody invalid not as a bloody invalid." 
He groaned and turned his face to the wall. Tin too sick too 
much of the time." After a few minutes of sleep, he opened his 
eyes and, calmly, sadly, said: "Tonight in my home the men 
have their arms around one another, and they are singing." 

When Liz and Herb went back to the hotel with him he 
seemed exhausted, overwhelmed by miseries that had led 
him beyond despair into fear. Unwilling to leave him alone, 
they saw him to sleep and Liz stayed with him through the 
night. Dylan was sleeping soundly when, next morning, she 
left the Chelsea to go to her apartment. 

Herb came to see Dylan later in the morning and they went 
out to breakfast at the Chelsea Chop House. Shaken by what 
he had experienced with Dylan the night before, Herb asked: 
"Dylan, how long have you been this way?" "Never this sick," 
said Dylan, "never this much before. After last night and now 
this morning, I've come to the melancholy conclusion that my 
health is totally gone. I can't drink at all. I always could, before 
. . . but now most of the time I can't even swallow beer with- 
out being sick. I tell myself that if I'd only lay off whisky and 
stick to beer I'd be all right . . . but I never do. I guess I just 
forgot to sleep and eat for too long. Ill have to give up some- 
thing." "What do you mean, Dylan," asked Herb, "do you mean 
life?" "No," Dylan said soberly, "I don't know ... I want to go 
on ... but I don't know. I don't know if I can. I don't feel able 

ig53 ; September November 

any more. Without my health I'm frightened. I can't explain it. 
It's something I don't know about. I never felt this way before 
and it scares me. When I was waiting for the plane this time in 
London, I found I was drinking in a mad hurry . . . like a 
fool, good God, one after another whisky and there was no 
hurry at all ... I had all the time in the world to wait, but I 
was drinking as though there wasn't much time left for me . . . 
to drink or wait. I was shocked ... I felt as though something 
in me wanted to explode, it was just as though I were going to 
burst. I got on the plane and watched my watch, got drunk 
and stayed frightened all the way here . . . really only a little 
booze on the plane but mostly frightened and sick with the 
thought of death. I felt as sick as death all the way over. I 
know I've had a lot of things wrong with my body lately, 
especially the past year or so. Since I was thirty-five I've felt 
myself getting harder to heal. I've been warned by doctors 
about me, but I could never really believe them . . . that I 
was ever sick seriously or in any real danger. I didn't know 
how to believe it ... or maybe I did believe it, but couldn't 
accept it. I think I just felt that I might be getting older faster 
than I expected to, older than I should be at my age. But now 
I don't know. Maybe I've always been frightened but didn't 
know it until I couldn't drink when I wanted to." 

When Herb suggested that it would be wise for him to see a 
doctor, a psychotherapist, Dylan seemed surprised. "Do you 
really think that could help me now?" he asked. "Certainly," 
said Herb. "But I don't know how to help myself any more," 
said Dylan; "how can anybody help someone who can't do 
that? I've always wanted to be my own psychiatrist, just as 
I've always wanted everybody to be their own doctor and 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Liz, meanwhile, returning to the Chelsea, found a note from 
Dylan asking her to join him and Herb. When she did, Herb 
asked her help in persuading Dylan to see a doctor not a 
psychotherapist, but a physician who might tender Dylan the 
immediate attention he needed. While Dylan at first resisted 
this idea not vehemently, but with the routine antipathy he 
showed toward all efforts designed to convince him that he 
needed help he was quite easily prevailed upon. Liz made a 
phone call that resulted in an appointment almost at once. 

When they went for a consultation with Dr. Milton Felten- 
stein, Dylan was given an injection of ACTH ( cortisone ) . The 
doctor, for whom Dylan felt a warm personal as well as pro- 
fessional regard, had months before warned him that only a 
rigorous and unbroken regimen would begin to relieve him of 
his physical torments. On this new occasion, he made clear to 
Dylan that the injection was but a temporary boost a prop 
that would help him get through the next few days and em- 
phasized again the necessity of his agreeing to a long-range 
program of medical care. 

As Liz and Dylan strolled up Third Avenue after their visit 
to the doctor, she asked him if he would tell her more of the 
nature of his illness. "I have such a feeling of dread," he told 
her, "a terrible pressure as if there were an iron band 
around my skull." But even as he spoke, the injection of 
ACTH was taking positive effect. Dylan soon remarked that 
he was beginning to feel much better and, more physically 
alert than he had felt for days, seemed comparatively outgoing 
and relieved of self-concern. As they were passing an Army & 
Navy store, he said that he needed some handkerchiefs. They 
went in, and Dylan bought six big plain white ones, then wan- 
dered about the shop. He especially liked American working- 

[ 254 1 

I 953 : September November 

mens' clothes, he said he had taken a number of shirts back 
to Wales in the previous spring, and wanted to take more of 
them this time blue ones. Leaving the store, they took a 
taxi uptown for the final rehearsal of Under Milk Wood, 
which was to be publicly performed that evening. 

My only personal contact with Dylan since he had come to 
New York was a welcoming call I had made from Cambridge 
on the day he arrived. Having heard nothing of the events of 
the past five days, I came to the Poetry Center that afternoon 
to find rehearsal going on in the darkened auditorium. When I 
discerned Dylan sitting in a front row from which he was 
supervising action on the stage, I took a seat directly beside 
him. When he recognized me, we exchanged a whispered 
greeting so as not to disturb the actors, then sat in silence for 
another ten minutes. When the house lights went up and I 
could see him, I was so shocked by his appearance I could 
barely stop myself from gasping aloud. His face was lime- 
white, his lips loose and twisted, his eyes dulled, gelid, and 
sunk in his head. He showed the countenance of a man who 
has been appalled by something beyond comprehension. 
Since there was still another scene to be run through on the 
stage, I left him, promising to join him and Liz at the nearby 
Irish bar within the hour. Backstage I sought out Liz. "What's 
the matter with Dylan, he looks terrible." She closed her eyes 
and slowly turned her head from side to side. "It's something 
very strange, John," she said, "something new and dreadful. I 
don't know what it means, I don't think Dylan does. . . ." And 
briefly she told me of Dylan's agonized talk the night before. 

After an hour of desk chores in the Poetry Center office, I 
went to our Irish bar rendezvous, only to wait in vain for the 
appearance of Dylan and Liz. When I sought them in other 

[ 255 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

likely places nearby and still could not locate them, I phoned 
the Chelsea. There was no response from Dylan's room. Puz- 
zled, and downcast by this defection, I went back to my hotel. 

With its original cast, and with final additions incorporated 
into the script, Under Milk Wood was given a third reading 
before a large audience that evening. While it was a good one, 
I felt it did not quite succeed in striking the fire of those per- 
formances I had seen in May. Conscious of the whiteness of 
Dylan's sick face as it showed through all the lights focused 
upon it, I could hear, above the music of his voice, "I have 
seen the gates of hell." 

Rollie gave a party for the actors and their friends at her 
apartment after the performance. Most of the time, Dylan 
seemed rather muted in his talk and behavior. One of the 
guests later told me that during a conversation she had no- 
ticed that he refused the drinks offered him. When she had 
asked him why he was not drinking, he had answered casually, 
almost brightly, "It's just that I've seen the gates of hell, that's 
all." The words had already become something to say at a 
party. As a small group of us lingered on into the morning 
hours, Dylan grew expansive, talkative, laughed boisterously, 
much like his normal self, and my concern was for the mo- 
ment alleviated at least my alarm over the illness that could 
be read in his face. Still troubled by the feeling that I had 
been carelessly neglected by Dylan that afternoon, I had no 
way of knowing that his lapse of consideration was not, as I 
felt then, a failure of trust, but, as I soon learned, merely a 
confusion on both our parts of times and places. 

He and Liz came next morning to see me at my hotel. 
There we had a strangely remote and disturbing talk about 
finances and the necessity of Dylan's having more money im- 

[ 256 i 

J 953 ; September November 

mediately. We spoke like strangers. The affectionate intimacy 
of our long discussions in Wales had entirely disappeared. The 
tone of our interview struck me as being like that of a busi- 
ness conference between someone who wanted money and 
someone who supposedly could be made to supply it if suffi- 
cient pressure were brought to bear. With a new shock of 
disillusion, I felt as though I had been used to good advantage 
over a long period, but that now my term of usefulness was 
over except perhaps in my ability to rake up immediate cash. 
Overwhelmed by this impasse in which disappointment and 
anger were equally at work, I was barely able to speak. If I 
had known then that Liz had also found affectionate com- 
munication with Dylan abruptly broken off, and that she too 
was bewildered by this development, I could have viewed the 
incident objectively. Ignorant of everything but what I had 
witnessed, I could only retreat. 

We taxied to the Poetry Center auditorium, Liz and I silent 
for reasons of our own, Dylan suddenly chipper and as full of 
song as a lark. The matinee of Under Milk Wood, on Sunday, 
October 25th, the last in which Dylan was to participate, was 
by every report its greatest performance. A thousand people 
were left hushed by its lyrical harmonies and its grandeur, 
among them Robert Shaw, the eminent choral director, who 
came backstage and, moved to tears, expressed his admiration. 
Dylan himself said he had at last heard the performance he 
wanted to hear. 

Unable to explain to myself the curious change in Dylan or 
to come upon any means of re-establishing a happier sense of 
ourselves, I spent the afternoon in withering depression. 
Meanwhile, suffering her own dilemma, Liz nevertheless ac- 
companied him to a party on Sutton Place a party which, 

[ 257 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

we later learned from Dylan himself, had been "set up" by the 
particular friend whose claim for Dylan's attention was now 
largely his zeal as a procurer. While some of his recent offer- 
ings had been refused, he had on this occasion come up with 
a prize a handsome refugee countess whose "sense of 
comic despair," according to Dylan, was the most attractive 
thing about her. She was hostess to the party, which had 
hardly gone on for an hour when Dylan broke his abstinence 
of days by gulping down one tumbler of Irish whisky after 
another; he then became boisterous and brawling, and shortly 
disappeared for hours with her into the upper regions of her 
large town house. 

My own gloomy afternoon, spent with Rollie in her apart- 
ment, had made me so lugubrious a companion that she 
finally drew me out to tell her what was on my mind. When I 
did, she told me what I had not known that on the previous 
afternoon, just when I had been searching for Dylan and Liz, 
they had been searching for me. When they had phoned Rol- 
lie in an attempt to locate me, she had learned that both 
Dylan and Liz felt I had been neglecting them, that my ap- 
parent lack of concern for Dylan had troubled him deeply, 
and that they were puzzled as to what to make of my be- 
havior. When even this knowledge could not overcome my 
sense of disillusion to the point where I would act, Rollie 
firmly insisted that I not leave the city, as I was about to do, 
before seeking them out. Under her prodding, I came to real- 
ize that I could do nothing but find Dylan in order to confirm 
or be rid of the burdens of our inscrutable predicament. 

When I got to the Sutton Place address, only nine or ten 
people were left, most of them seated on the floor having a 
lounging sort of supper around a low circular table. I spoke 

[ 358 i 

1953-* September November 

with Liz and greeted Dylan with a feint at cheerfulness. A 
few tense minutes later, I asked Liz if she and Dylan would 
join me where we might talk apart from the company. We 
went up a flight of stairs into a drawing room and sat down, 
Liz and Dylan on a couch, I on a chair facing them. The room 
was semidark, lighted only from the hallway and by checkered 
reflections of lights on the river. 

Sick at heart, I began to say words I had rehearsed in the 
taxi ride down, only to find that, as I quickly came to tears, I 
need say nothing. Dylan began to weep, and Liz wept. Speak- 
ing half-articulate phrases, we learned that each of us had felt 
shut off, that each had sensed disillusion with the other, and 
that the clumsy silence into which we had retreated was the 
consequence of a sensitivity so acute and of a misunderstand- 
ing so vast that only now could we begin to comprehend it. 
Suddenly all the tensions surrounding the last two days seemed 
to be dissolving into thin air. Holding my face in my hands as 
I attempted to regain composure, I felt strong arms about me. 
Standing behind me as he held me very firmly, Dylan spoke 
the last words I was ever to hear him say directly to me: 
"John, you know, don't you? this is forever." 

Moments later, feeling absurd and foolishly dramatic as we 
wiped our tears and blew our noses in the semidark elegance 
of our surroundings, we knew that our paralyzing impasse had 
been broken, and that we had awakened into a new sense of 
one another as if from a dream in which we moved about like 
tight-lipped strangers. Free at a stroke from the tensions we 
had so silently brought upstairs, we went downstairs and 
joined the party. Liz and I sat on a couch, water-lights and the 
dim shrieks of tugboats moving on the river behind us. Dylan, 
having just been served a fresh tumbler of whisky, joined a 

[ *59 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

group gathered around the mantelpiece across the room. 

We spoke only of Dylan; not until days later did it occur to 
me that this was the only time she and I had conversed in in- 
timate confidence about him. Now that the emotional pres- 
sures of the day had been lifted, and their causes dispersed, 
we felt bound by an understanding perhaps possible only to 
those to whom Dylan had been both a living delight and a 
living torment. He was, Liz said, without any question, the 
most lovable human being she had ever known. While she 
adored him, she knew also that he was a destroyer that he 
had an instinct for drawing to him those most capable of being 
annihilated by him. In the short time in which she had known 
Dylan, the attentions he demanded, whether these were con- 
scious or unconscious, had caused her to lose all sense of her 
own existence, and to be attuned only to his. Now, she felt 
she was at a breaking point. Tonight she was going to let him 
know that she could no longer be with him, and that she 
could no longer take care of him. 

This first discussion of the consequences of our having 
known Dylan was a mutual revelation our feelings were 
identical, and the bewilderment we shared was of the same 
nature and sprang from much the same experience. We both 
took his poetic genius for granted; and while we could accept 
though not wholly comprehend his genius as a human be- 
ing, we could not avoid seeing ourselves in some ways as cir- 
cumstantial victims of an enchantment Dylan inevitably put 
upon any one who came close to him. He knew by instinct 
who was, and who was not, susceptible to this enchantment. 
More than once, recognizing his power to exert it, and then to 
betray those who were subject to it, he had said to Liz that he 
felt "like a murderer." While he persisted in it, his Machiavel- 

[ 260 i 

J953-* September November 

lian role brought him neither pleasure nor security, but only 
further self-distrust and a deeper sense of self-degradation. 
The briefest review of Dylan's emotional life would suggest 
that no man was ever more adept in killing what he loved, or 
suffered more in the consequence. While this was an agonizing 
recognition to make, in meeting upon it, we had found a new 
bond of strength which, all too soon, would be all that we 
might trust in. 

As the evening wore on, Dylan returned to unabashed dalli- 
ance with his hostess while, sprawling on the floor, he spilled 
liquor and ashes over himself, and seemed to have retreated 
into that state of loud drunkenness in which babyish self- 
indulgence overtook all of his lovable qualities and left him 
a figure of ridicule to strangers and a figure of despair to 
friends. Resigned to this development, and again almost as 
unhappy as we had been hours earlier, Liz and I decided to 
leave the party together. We were putting on our coats in the 
entrance hall when, like a child who fears he has been de- 
serted, his eyes wide and rueful, his little briefcase clutched 
in his hand, behind us came Dylan. "Here I am," he said, and 
quickly put on his coat and came along with us. 

Several others from the party got into our taxi, and I was 
dropped off at Grand Central where I was to catch a train for 
Boston. As the taxi proceeded downtown, Dylan asked Liz to 
come with him to the White Horse; she said no she wanted 
now only to go home. When the taxi drew into her neighbor- 
hood, Dylan said, "I used to have a friend who lived near here." 
"You still do," said Liz, and left him. Dylan went on to the 
White Horse, stayed out most of the night, and returned to 
his hotel with a girl "loaned" to him by one of his drinking 

[ 261 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

On the next morning, October 26th, Liz phoned him on 
matters related to the production of his play, then went to her 
office. Still determined to leave him, in personal torment 
from the circumstances into which she and Dylan had come, 
she was nevertheless fearful that, heedless of his doctor's ad- 
vice, he would continue to go without food and to abuse him- 
self with drink. In the middle of the afternoon she had a phone 
call from Dylan; he wanted to see her "terribly," he said, and 
begged her to meet him. When she went to join him at the 
Algonquin, she found him in conversation with a Dutch busi- 
nessman whose acquaintance he had made just a few minutes 
before. Dylan, already drunk, ordered one whisky after an- 
other. When the conversation turned toward politics and war, 
without warning, he suddenly went into a raving fantasy. His 
talk, implying that he had been in actual wartime combat, 
that he had witnessed horrors involving his family, became dis- 
connected, violent, maudlin and obscene. A waiter came to 
the table to quiet him, but Dylan, helplessly gripped by his 
fantasy, ranted on about blood and mutilation and burning 
and death. In an attempt to calm him, Liz held his hand; he 
broke into tears and began to sob. The Dutchman, more sym- 
pathetic than alarmed, indicated that he understood the ir- 
rational nature of Dylan's lapse, and left him in Liz's hands, 
saying, "He is a good man, take care of him." 

When they left the Algonquin a few minutes later, Dylan 
continued in drunken behavior that seemed to be touched 
frighteningly with a streak of insanity. He made gargoyle 
faces at people passing by in the street, walked in a tottering 
and lunging parody of drunkenness, spoke four-letter words 
loudly with complete disregard for who might hear them. 
As they stopped for a traffic light, Dylan turned to her. "You 

[ 262 ] 

2 953 ; September November 

reaUy hate me, don't you?" he said. "No," said Liz, "but it's 
not for your lack of trying." He became less erratic then, and 
wanted to go to a movie. In one of the crowded Forty-second 
Street houses, they sat through a double feature, Dylan ap- 
parently recovered sufficiently not only to give his attention to 
a Mickey Spillane thriller and to a western but to indicate that 
he was absorbed and delighted by both of them. When the 
movies were over, he was sober and wanted to go to Goody's, 
one of the bars of the Village where he and Liz had often 
spent quiet evenings together. Now they would go there, he 
said, in a spirit of "reunion." As they sat at the bar, Dylan, ap- 
parently overtaken by a new pang of anguish, began to speak 
of himself. "I'm really afraid I'm going mad," he said, "there's 
something terribly wrong with my mind. Perhaps it's sex, per- 
haps I'm not normal perhaps the analysts could find it out." 
A while later, returning from the cigarette machine, he noticed 
a young couple in a booth, their heads amorously together. 
"How filthy!" he said to Liz. Amazed at such an unexpected 
remark, Liz told him that he spoke like a Puritan. "Yes," he 
said, as if for the first time he had understood something about 
himself, "I am a Puritan!" As he talked further of his mental 
confusion, Liz said quietly that he would have to find the an- 
swers, that if he were going to avoid despair he would have 
to find professional help. Dylan agreed, then abruptly ended 
the session at Goody's by saying that they must leave at once, 
that he could not stay there a minute longer. As they were 
stepping into a taxi, a young man approached. "Are you Dylan 
Thomas?" Dylan nodded, whereupon the young man launched 
into an explosive paean of hero-worship, and asked for an auto- 
graph. On a small piece of paper, leaning out of the taxi win- 
dow, Dylan wrote (it was now after midnight) "Dylan 

[ 263 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

Thomas, October 27. Birthday," and gave it to the boy saying 
that he was really only posing as Dylan Thomas. Liz accompa- 
nied him to the Horse, but Dylan was too distressed and ill to 
stay for more than a few minutes. When they returned to the 
hotel, she said good night to him with a promise to phone early 
in the morning. 

His birthday began quietly enough, Liz returning to have 
breakfast with him before going to her office. When she went 
to meet him at the Horse at six in the evening, she found 
Howard Moss, who had come to buy Dylan a birthday drink, 
After toasts to the event, Howard left, and Liz, with Dylan 
and a group who had joined them, went on to the apartment 
of his friends, Rose and Dave Slivka, who had prepared a cele- 
bration in his honor. In a crowd of invited guests, Dylan was 
wretched and nervous, unable, after the first half -hour, to join 
conversation or to partake of the elaborate dinner that had 
been prepared. When he announced that he was sick and 
would have to return to the hotel immediately, his host drove 
him and Liz to the Chelsea. 

Back in his room he fell upon the bed, saying, "What a filthy, 
undignified creature I am," and remarking upon the "awful" 
occasion of his "wretched age." Unwilling to let him sink any 
further into despair, Liz spoke to him firmly, begging him to 
do something to save himself, to fight against the terrors that 
were slowly overwhelming him. As she spoke not gently this 
time, but out of the grief and impatience to which his alter- 
nating gestures of self-destruction and appeals for loving at- 
tention had brought her he shouted for her to stop. Sharply 
hurt by his response, Liz rose and was about to leave the 
room when Dylan said, "That won't help my agony." He wept 

[ 264 ] 

1 9S3 : September November 

then, and as Liz tried to comfort him he spoke of Caitlin. "I 
know she's crying, too," he said. 

In the late evening, I phoned from Cambridge to wish Dylan 
well on his birthday. From his mere whispers of response I 
sensed that he was either ill or had had too much to drink. I 
tried, ineffectively in the circumstance, to convey an affection- 
ate greeting, but he seemed so far away and out of connection 
that I doubted he knew who was calling. 

He read his poems at the City College of New York on the 
following day and spent hours drinking with new acquaint- 
ances he made there. When Liz went to see him at the hotel 
in the early evening, he was about to leave for the symposium 
on film art arranged by Cinema 16 with a delegation of peo- 
ple who had called for him. In his vague greeting to Liz, she 
had a disturbing feeling that he did not remember that they 
had agreed to meet. She went with him to the program, the 
panel of which was made up of Arthur Miller, Parker Tyler, 
Maya Deren, with Willard Maas as moderator. Dylan, appar- 
ently in fine fettle, was a frequent and serious participant in 
the discussion, expressing incomprehension and then alarm at 
some of the sophisticated notions proffered by Mr. Maas and 
Miss Deren, particularly when they spoke of "levels, conscious 
and unconscious," and offering his own simple feelings with 
the remark that, as far as he was concerned, he "just liked 
stories." The most "poetic" of films, he felt, were those of 
Charles Chaplin and the Marx Brothers. When, late in the 
discussion, Willard Maas remarked that no one had yet in- 
troduced a consideration of "love" as a factor in the art of 
the cinema, Dylan coyly turned to him. "O, Willard" he said, 
"I didn't know you cared." A group accompanied him and Liz 
to the White Horse afterwards, where Dylan, delighted by a 

[ 265 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

series of caricatures Liz had made during the course of the 
evening, passed them about for everyone to see. 

Swearing to Liz, and perhaps to himself, that he would drink 
nothing now but beer, Dylan headed into another busy day. 
He met his Sutton Place inamorata for lunch and, while he 
had intended to work on the cutting of Under Milk Wood for 
publication in Mademoiselle, dallied through most of the aft- 
ernoon with her in her town house. In the evening, he and Liz 
went to dinner with Cyrilly Abels and her husband, Jerome 
Weinstein, whose other guests were the Indian writer, Santha 
Rama Rau and her husband. Happy in this company, Dylan 
participated warmly in a lengthy political discussion, and, 
later, told ghost stories in the narration of which he and Miss 
Rama Rau were chillingly proficient. For the hundredth time, 
Liz was struck by his ability to be easy and gracious in all the 
ways that the misery in his face belied. 

On the next evening, when she met him at six o'clock to at- 
tend a dinner party at the home of Ruthven Todd, she found 
him with Herb Hannum and his refugee countess, who, she 
had already learned from Dylan, had asked him to marry 
her. It was a difficult session for everyone. When she asked 
them all to come to dinner on Sutton Place, Dylan told her of 
their previous engagement and indicated that it was time 
now for them to go. He had, as it turned out, resolved that 
very day to see no more of her. Rebuffed, his lady suitor left 
and they went on to Ruthven's. Under his host's subtle and 
sympathetic insistence, Dylan drank only beer, and talked 
through the evening with fourteen or fifteen people, among 
them a young Negro novelist with whom he discussed at length 
technical points of fiction. When the party broke up, he asked 
Liz and Herb to come with him to the Horse for a nightcap. 

ig53 : September November 

On the morning of October 3ist, Dylan had a phone call 
from a young woman, a close friend of Liz's, whom he had 
met when he stayed with her and her husband on one of his 
college visits. Delighted by the opportunity to see her again, 
Dylan made a date to take her and Liz to lunch. When they 
met, he said that he wanted their luncheon to be very special 
they would have the "poshest" one they could possibly order 
and they would do this at Luchow's. While Dylan himself ate 
next to nothing, merely picking at the dishes he ordered, this 
turned out to be a pleasant, even merry occasion, and the party 
did not break up until it had been moved to Costello's on Third 
Avenue, one of Dylan's first American haunts. There he was 
later called for by Harvey Breit and taken off to a dinner party. 
Before leaving, he promised to rejoin Liz and her friend at 
eleven o'clock. After going separate ways, they returned to 
Costello's in the late evening, but Dylan did not show up. 

When Liz spoke with him by phone on the following morn- 
ing, he said he was in dreadful condition, that his hangover was 
"a real horror." Worse than that, he said, was the memory of 
something he had done: in the dimly recalled night before, 
he had taken a sudden dislike to a woman who was riding in 
a cab with him and had literally thrown her out into the street, 
simply because he could not for another moment bear the sight 
of her. He asked Liz to meet him and about noon they went 
to the Horse. A number of friends and acquaintances drifted 
by as Dylan drank beer and raw eggs a diet which, for days 
now, had provided his only nourishment and slowly began 
to recover equilibrium. Early in the evening, a group of people 
clustering around his table moved on to dinner at a Village 
restaurant, and later some of them went on to a small party in 
an apartment on Central Park West. While this was meant to 

[ 267 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

be a quiet gathering, Dylan became drunk, unstrung, messy in 
behavior, made obvious advances to a lady dancer whom he 
pursued about the apartment (while his pursuit was unsuccess- 
ful, it was so physically awkward that the young woman spent 
weeks afterwards under medical care for a concussion), and 
showed every sign that, ill or no, he could still muster the zest 
of his famous party behavior. 

After midnight, Howard Moss invited a group from the party 
to come to his apartment for a nightcap. As they were making 
desultory conversation and listening to music there, Dylan 
said nervously: "I just saw a mouse. Did you see it?" He 
pointed to a door. "It went under there." Liz and the others 
did not see it, and sensed immediately that there was no real 
mouse to see. But Dylan was obviously so distraught that Liz 
said Yes, she had seen it, and he seemed relieved. Asked by 
Howard if he would read a poem or two, Dylan said he would 
like to very much. In a few minutes, leafing through the later 
poems of Yeats which, to Dylan, were the greatest of all mod- 
ern poems and which had become increasingly the models of 
what he himself strove toward, he began the last reading he was 
ever to give. Among the pieces he chose were "Lapis Lazuli," 
"News for the Delphic Oracle," "Long-Legged Fly," "J^ n 
Kinsella's Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore." Before he had fin- 
ished his recital, he also read W. H. Auden's, "September i, 

It was a warm night. When the reading, which had lasted 
for more than an hour, was over, he went with Howard out 
onto the terrace of the apartment to look at a rose tree which 
now bore its last blossom of the summer. Approaching in dark- 
ness, Dylan went too close and scratched his eyeball on a 
thorny stem. He winced and cursed as he withdrew, but for- 

[ 268 i 

J953-* September November 

tunately the sharpness of the pain lasted only for a moment. 
Shortly he was back in the apartment and had settled down to 
drink until the party broke up about five A.M. 

When he awoke in his hotel after a few hours of sleep, the 
pain from his bruised eye and the throb of his hangover was so 
great that he was unable to leave his bed. Liz nursed him 
through a long painful day and by early evening he had re- 
turned to a semblance of normality. Against her advice, he 
decided that he should not give up a social engagement he 
had promised to meet that evening: an unveiling of a statue 
of Sir Thomas Lipton by the sculptor, Frank Dobson, taking 
place at the Wildenstein Galleries. After this ceremony was 
over, he and Liz went to the Colony for dinner as guests of Ben 
Sonnenberg, the publicist, who was in charge of the unveiling. 
In a soiled shirt, and an ill-fitting bargain suit an acquaintance 
had persuaded him to buy at a garment-district emporium, 
Dylan made polite, even enthusiastic, conversation in the opu- 
lence of the Colony, at ease with everyone except, perhaps, 

It was an elegant gathering, and while Dylan ate nothing, he 
did take advantage of the occasion to have his first drinks of 
the day. As he and Liz were about to leave the restaurant 
when the dinner party broke up, Dylan spotted William Faulk- 
ner and a lady companion at a nearby table. He went over to 
Faulkner, exchanged brief greetings with him, and returned 
with the remark to Liz that someday, he hoped, he and Faulk- 
ner would really be able to talk. 

Dylan wanted to go on to Costello's. As they sat in a booth 
there, Liz made drawings and caricatures. Delighted by these, 
Dylan asked for a whole series of eccentric figures, including 
one of "The drunkest man in the world." Liz attempted this 

[ 269 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

but, try as she might, the features of the drunkest man in the 
world were impossible to get just right. Soon Dylan said he was 
hungry and that he wanted to go back to the Chelsea. At his 
insistence, they bought quantities of food at a delicatessen; but 
when the midnight supper was prepared, Dylan would have 
nothing but a bowl of soup. 

On November 3rd, Election Day, Ruthven Todd and Herb 
Hannum came to the hotel early to visit with Dylan. Liz 
joined them in a late morning's talk, then said she would have 
to take leave of them in order to vote. Dylan took a satirical 
view of this, but could not dissuade her. When she and 
Ruthven returned from the polls, a young poet had come to join 
the group, and a new drinking session was soon well under 
way. To forestall, if she possibly could, the onset of another 
alcoholic day, Liz prevailed upon them to leave. Dylan slept 
then, to be awakened only by the arrival of the lecture agent 
whose offer, made in the previous summer, had been one of 
his main reasons for coming to America. After a brief conversa- 
tion with the agent, Dylan signed a contract that would guar- 
antee him one thousand dollars per week for his services. 
His connection with the agency would begin immediately, and 
there was a clause in the contract stating that he could with- 
draw at any time when his earnings did not reach that figure. 

When he had handed back the signed contracts and said 
good-by to his new agent, he lay down on his bed. While he 
had made a late afternoon appointment to have cocktails with 
Santha Rama Rau and her husband, and Cheryl Crawford, the 
theatrical producer, he said now that he could not go any- 
where. He seemed exhausted, self-preoccupied and morbidly 
depressed, but after a short nap he awoke saying that he 
would keep his cocktail date after all. Liz went with him to 

[ 270 ] 

2 953 ; September November 

Miss Rama Rau's apartment, where he drank moderately, 
played with her little boy, and seemed quite his congenial self 
in conversation with Miss Crawford. 

Afterwards they went to visit the sculptor, Frank Dobson, 
at his hotel. While they had planned to go with him and a 
theater party he had organized to see Take a Giant Step, 
Dylan felt that he was not up to it. When they had made 
their excuses to Dobson, they returned to the hotel. Dylan's 
exhaustion seemed as much mental as physical as, hardly able 
to speak, he fell asleep immediately. Liz sat with him through 
the evening. Fretfully turning on his bed, he awoke to speak, 
sometimes in tears, of his wife, of the misery of his existence, 
and of his wish to die. "I want to go to the Garden of Eden," 
he said, "to die ... to be forever unconscious. . . ." And 
then, later, "You know, I adore my little boy. ... I can't bear 
the thought that I'm not going to see him again. Poor little 
bugger, he doesn't deserve this." "Doesn't deserve what?" 
asked Liz. "He doesn't deserve my wanting to die. I truly want 
to die." Speaking of Caitlin, then, he said, "You have no idea 
how beautiful she is. There is an illumination about her . . . 
she shines." As Liz attempted to comfort him, telling him that 
he did not have to die, that he could get well, he began to 
weep uncontrollably. 

In fitful sleep, broken only by disconnected and further 
agonized snatches of talk, he kept to his bed until two A.M. 
Then, suddenly, he reared up with a fierce look in his eyes. 
"I've got to have a drink," he said, "I've got to go out and have 
a drink. I'll come back in half an hour." Liz pleaded with him, 
but he ignored her entreaties and left her. Alone in the room, 
she waited as half an hour went by, then an hour, then an hour 
and a half. Dylan opened the door, walked to the center of the 

[ 271 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

room and said laconically, "I've had eighteen straight whiskies. 
I think that's the record." He sank onto his knees, reached 
out his arms, and fell into her lap saying, "I love you . . . 
but I'm alone," and went to sleep. 

When he awoke in midmorning, he said he was suffocating, 
that he had to get out into the air right away. Liz went with 
him for a walk that led, inevitably, to the White Horse where 
he had two glasses of beer, chatting meanwhile with a truck- 
driver acquaintance. But he was too sick to stay for long. When 
they returned to the hotel, and without allowing him opportu- 
nity to object, Liz said, "I am going to call the doctor." Dylan 
resigned himself to this, and Dr. Feltenstein was summoned 
and arrived within the half-hour. The doctor gave him medica- 
tions that would relieve his suffering, temporarily at least, and 
instructed Liz in procedures for taking care of him. Dylan 
slept, off and on, through the afternoon, and when he awoke 
with another severe attack of nausea and vomiting, Dr. 
Feltenstein was summoned again. Without equivocation, he 
told Dylan that he would have to begin immediately on a 
regimen of medical attention. In response, Dylan was evasive, 
pointing out that he had engagements to fulfill at Wheaton 
College, at M.I.T. and at Mt. Holyoke, and declared that he 
felt he would soon be all right. The doctor dismissed his argu- 
ments, gave him a shot of ACTH, and told him that the new 
regimen would begin at once. Restive, Dylan protested again, 
whereupon the doctor made a slight compromise: he would 
allow him to fulfill just one of his engagements, after which he 
would have to return to New York immediately for continu- 
ance of treatment. As Dylan, still reluctant, fretted and showed 
his impatience by groans and sighs, the doctor asked forcefully, 
"Do you want to go on being sick?" Quietly, firmly, Dylan said, 

1 953 : September November 

"No." When the interview was over, Liz stepped into the hall- 
way with the doctor. When she returned to the room, Dylan 
asked, "What did he say to you? Did he say I was going to 
die?" "No," said Liz. "He didn't say that. ... He simply said 
that you will have to accept the fact that you're very ill and 
that you'll have to begin today to do something about it." "I 
will," said Dylan, "I'll do whatever you wish." "But," said Liz, 
"is that what you wish?" "Yes," said Dylan, "I truly, truly do." 

After another vomiting spell a consequence of his alco- 
holic gastritis he became drowsy and fell asleep. Liz had 
meantime phoned me in Cambridge to say that plans for the 
week end when Dylan was to spend a leisurely five days 
with me after his engagement at Wheaton College would 
have to be canceled. In the late afternoon, she went out to 
buy supplies the doctor had recommended for Dylan's new 
diet. He slept for a couple of hours, awoke to vomit and, when 
this subsided, lay down again, but not to rest. As Liz almost 
instantly recognized, Dylan was beginning to go into delirium 
tremens. He indicated that he was "seeing" something, that 
it was "not animals . . . abstractions." As perspiration broke 
out on his face and he began to retch again, Liz phoned Dr. 
Feltenstein, who came to the hotel immediately. As Dylan, 
raving now, begged to be "put out," the doctor gave him a 
sedative. Fearing that delirium tremens might make Dylan 
uncontrollable, the doctor advised Liz to call in some friend 
to stay with her, insisting that it be a man. After several at- 
tempts to locate friends of hers and Dylan's by phone, she was 
able to get the help of Jack Heliker, the painter, who arrived 
within a few minutes. By this time Dylan had become a little 
more peaceful. As Heliker came into the room, Dylan held out 
his hand "This is a hell of a way to greet a man, isn't it?" 

[ *73 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

and very soon fell into a restless sleep. Liz and Heliker sat by 
his bed as Dylan waked and dozed intermittently. "The hor- 
rors" were still there, he said "abstractions, triangles and 
squares and circles." Once he said to Liz, "You told me you 
had a friend who had d. t.'s. What was it like?" "He saw white 
mice and roses," said Liz. "Roses plural?" asked Dylan, "or 
Rose's roses, with an apostrophe?" Then Liz said, "You know, 
Dylan, one thing about horrors just remember, they go away, 
they do go away " "Yes," said Dylan, "I believe you." As she 
sat beside him holding his hand in hers, she suddenly felt his 
grip stiffen. When she looked at Dylan his face was turning 
blue. A quick call to Dr. Feltenstein brought an ambulance 
that took Dylan to St. Vincent's Hospital. 

At home in Cambridge, I was asleep when, at 2:30 in the 
morning, I was awakened by the insistent ringing of the phone. 
It was Liz, calling from New York. Her voice shrill, barely 
controlled, she told me that she was speaking from St. Vincent's 
Hospital, where Dylan had been received into the emer- 
gency ward. Quickly filling in details of the dreadful evening 
since her talk with me by phone in the late afternoon, she said 
that Dylan had passed into coma, that he had been given oxy- 
gen, that a spinal tap was being made to ascertain whether he 
had sustained a cerebral hemorrhage, and that his name was 
on the critical list. As she spoke quickly, disconnectedly, she 
broke down. I could hear her weeping, for a time unable to 
speak at all. And then, dismissing all details, she said with an 
anguished sob, "John, he may be dying ... he may be dy- 
ing," and implored me to come at once. 

Three hours later, on the first plane available, I was flying 
over Long Island Sound in the pink and orange sun of a wind- 

[ 274 ] 

1953-* September November 

less morning. In this numb suspension, I sat sick and chill, 
attempting to sort out thoughts and feelings that had gripped 
me since Liz's call. While my mind would not work, I knew 
that I was stunned as if I were leaning against a wall of ap- 
prehension that would give way if I moved so much as an 
inch. I had made the flight between Boston and New York 
hundreds of times, yet the memory of that one passage remains 
with me precise in every detail, from the moment I boarded 
the plane until I left. It was as though my attention would fix 
on anything but the one fear that obsessed it. 

Liz had asked me to phone her apartment on Charles Street 
just a few steps from St. Vincent's as soon as I reached 
New York. When I phoned from the airport, Jack Heliker 
answered. Liz was still at the hospital. Since she would have 
phoned him with news of any critical change, and since she 
had not, he assumed that Dylan's condition was at least no 

I took a taxi to the hospital, which is located on Eleventh 
Street at Seventh Avenue. As I hurried in by the front en- 
trance, I could see Liz, comforted by Ruthven Todd, being led 
in the direction away from me down the corridor. I called out 
to them. By their dazed expressions, I believed at once that 
Dylan was dead. I put my arms around Liz, and she wept on 
my chest. Ruthven embraced both of us, saying, "No, we 
haven't lost him, John, he's still with us." We retired to a waiting 
room. Barely able to speak from the shock and grief of the 
night's events and her long vigil, Liz told me that Dylan's con- 
dition was so critical that any moment might bring word of his 
death. While the spinal tap had shown no evidence of the 
cerebral hemorrhage doctors had first suspected, there was 
some evidence that Dylan had sustained a diabetic shock, 

[ 275 i 

Dylan Thomas in America 

and this clue was being followed up. Minute by minute, as 
we sat in a ghastly apprehensive embrace in the dim waiting 
room, we watched for a word or sign from the Emergency 
Ward. As she tried to tell me of the events that had led to this 
moment, Liz faltered and had only breath enough to say, "Oh, 
John, why didn't I call the police?" No one calls the police, I 
told her, no one calls the police. 

Within an hour, the swinging doors of the adjoining corridor 
were pushed open. Dylan, outstretched under sheets, was 
wheeled to an elevator and taken to the third floor, where he 
was put in a room in the St. Joseph's division of the Hospital. 
Doctors and nurses surrounded him as he was rolled past the 
waiting room; we could see only that he lay inert, his face in 
an oxygen mask, his wild hair limp and wet, his face blotched 
with fever. We grasped at one small hope; since the physicians 
had allowed him to be removed from the Emergency Ward, 
he was at least not sinking. 

Dr. Feltenstein came to us shortly and, in medical terms, 
impressed us anew with the minute-by-minute balance upon 
which Dylan's life depended. When he questioned us about 
any knowledge we might have had of a recent fall, and about 
the diabetic condition that the doctors now suspected, we 
had nothing to offer. In 1950, Dylan mentioned to me 
that he believed he had cirrhosis of the liver, but had never 
spoken of diabetes, or ever again of the suspected liver con- 

Within half an hour we were allowed to go upstairs to see 
him. He was breathing heavily through the oxygen mask, at- 
tended by doctors and nurses while a blood transfusion was 
being administered. Since there was nothing to do but look 
on helplessly, soon we returned to the waiting room. There we 

[ 276 i 

J953- September November 

found Ruthven's wife, Joellen, and shortly came Rose and Dave 
Slivka, who were particularly close friends of Caitlin's. When 
Liz and I went to the third floor again, we were not allowed 
at Dylan's bedside. Activity around him continued without 
respite. Standing at the door of his room, we could observe 
only that he was still alive and that ceaseless effort was being 
made to save him. 

Later in the morning, I made local and long-distance calls 
to people who were close to Dylan, and arranged to have 
Caitlin notified. Our vigil was soon joined by Herb Hannum, 
Rollie and Howard Moss. We spent the endless afternoon 
waiting, Liz and I conferring at intervals with Dr. Feltenstein 
and Dr. James McVeigh, the staff physician who had been 
put in charge of Dylan. When we learned that it was now 
established that Dylan had sustained "a severe insult to the 
brain," and that this was due to direct alcoholic poisoning of 
brain cells and brain tissue, we made arrangements with Dr. 
Feltenstein to call in a brain specialist for consultation. Dr. Leo 
Davidoff was our choice, since we had learned of his reputation 
as one of the world's leading specialists, and we set about 
securing his services. 

By early evening we had to accept two seemingly contradic- 
tory statements: on the one hand, Dr. Feltenstein informed us, 
the longer Dylan remained in coma the less were his chances 
of recovery, since the long duration of the coma indicated the 
severity of injury to the brain. On the other hand, Dr. McVeigh 
pointed out, the longer Dylan remained alive, the more evi- 
dence did we have of his basic strength to endure and per- 
haps overcome the violence of the shock he had sustained. 
Physicians had spent the whole day attempting to restore basic 
somatic balances. By evening, this had been achieved. But 

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Dylan Thomas in America 

there was no sign that the coma was any less deep than at the 
very beginning. 

Just before midnight, at the request of the nurse who was 
attending him, Liz and I spoke to Dylan a number of times, 
saying the same words and phrases over and over again. At 
moments, we believed we saw flickers of response, and the 
nurse encouraged us to continue. But to almost every observa- 
tion Dylan remained wholly unconscious, only his eyes moving 
now and then, sightless and without focus. Half an hour later, 
when Rose Slivka and I were at the bedside, I tried again, 
saying softly to Dylan that he wai not alone, that Caitlin was 
coming to him, that Liz and I would stay with him, and 
attempting otherwise to have him recognize me if only by my 
voice. While I spoke there was a sudden, definite reaction. The 
rhythm of his breathing became slightly agitated, and he ut- 
tered a sound that seemed to indicate that his whole body 
was straining toward speech. This seemed a miracle, yet I 
doubted the evidence of what I saw and heard. A few minutes 
later, I spoke to him again, and again came the same response, 
an effort so agonized and instantaneous, and yet so incon- 
clusive that I could hardly bear to watch. Whether Dylan had 
heard and somehow understood or whether his reaction was 
but a muscular spasm was impossible to know. While I took 
hope in the thought that, whatever its nature, his response was 
immediate and unmistakable, doctors later told me that his 
coma was of such depth as to leave him utterly senseless to 
any influence. 

Through the hospital dimness I could now discern new faces 
in the doorway. John Berryman, the poet and critic, had come 
from Princeton and, along with a number of people whom I 
did not know, David Loug6e, one of Dylan's first American 

[ 278 ] 

1953-* September November 

friends. Strangers came and went through the long night. One 
was an elegantly dressed young woman who simply appeared 
at the door of the room, stared at him for half an hour, and 
departed without speaking to anyone. Many others came only 
long enough to look in, or to speak to the nurses, and so con- 
firm for themselves the rumor of Dylan's plight. About four 
A.M., Sister Consilio, who was in charge of the St. Joseph's 
Division, came to us and advised us to go home to bed. She 
assured us that Dylan's physical functioning had been restored, 
that his condition had become much less critical, and that he 
was now out of immediate danger. While most of us tended to 
accept the truth of this, we were still reluctant to leave the 
hospital. Gaunt, mesmerized by her unbroken vigil of more 
than twenty-four hours, Liz would not accept the nun's word 
or her advice. Sister Consilio then became adamant, changed 
her counsel into an order, and led us away from Dylan's 
room toward the main entrance of the hospital. Liz, as adamant 
as she, and too distraught now to comprehend the situation, 
refused to leave. But, finally prevailed upon, she was taken 
away from the hospital by friends who stayed with her through 
the night. 

Back in the hospital just before eight o'clock, I found the 
only response I could elicit was "no change." The oxygen 
mask was still on Dylan's face, his eyes, spasmodically turning, 
fluttering, were open, but their unseeing gaze only confirmed 
his unfathomable sleep. Liz returned shortly and we waited 
together through the morning, moving from Dylan's bedside 
to the waiting room in turns, retreating only when we felt our 
presence might be an annoyance to the doctors and nurses who 
continually came and went. In the early afternoon, we learned 
that Dr. Leo Davidoff would not be available, but that he 

Dylan Thomas in America 

had unqualifiedly recommended to us Dr. C. G. de Gutierrez- 
Mahoney, a brain specialist and brain surgeon. He arrived 
shortly, and Dr. Feltenstein escorted him to Dylan's bedside. 
When the two physicians returned after an hour's consultation, 
Liz and I were asked into an anteroom to speak with them. 
We found Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney to be an elegant, soft- 
spoken man who knew Dylan's work and understood its worth, 
and who seemed to understand by instinct not only every 
nuance of our concern but the circumstances that had given 
us the responsibility of providing for Dylan's care. Confirm- 
ing the earlier diagnosis of "direct alcoholic toxicity in brain 
tissue and brain cells," he said that in the nature of the case 
there was no basis for undertaking surgery. Everything that 
could be done to make possible Dylan's survival had already 
been done, but it was likely that his condition was not reversi- 
ble. He had been on the phone to London where friends of 
Dylan's, having read of his illness in the newspapers, had 
found a physician who offered facts pertinent to Dylan's previ- 
ous physical condition. Among these were points of informa- 
tion we ourselves had never known: that Dylan had suffered 
"blackouts" on several recent occasions in Wales and in Lon- 
don, and that in a visit to his Swansea physician, he had 
been specifically warned that alcoholism had brought him to 
the threshold of an attack such as had now overtaken him. 
Observing that Liz and I were unable to accept the notion 
that nothing further could be done, Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney 
asked if there were unresolved questions in our minds. I in- 
quired whether Dylan's ability to have sustained the initial 
shock that led to coma (it was now more than forty hours in 
duration) might give us hope whether he might already 
have shown unexpected reserves of physical strength that 

[ 280 ] 

iQ53 : September November 

might point to some chance of his survival. The doctor's answer 
was that, somatically speaking, Dylan had been restored to 
comparative normal functioning; the "X" factor, and the crucial 
one, was the still indeterminable degree of "insult to the brain." 

Our bedside vigil continued into the evening. By now the 
hospital staff, plagued with telephone calls by the hundreds, 
bewildered to find its waiting room continually overflowing 
with visitors bent on seeing Dylan or having direct news of 
him, had ordered that only Liz and I be allowed to visit 
Dylan. Passes to this effect had been given to us. About ten 
o'clock we could see, by the increased activity of doctors and 
nurses, that Dylan was undergoing a change. At three o'clock 
that afternoon, we had conferred at length with Dr. McVeigh 
who had predicted a probable change, for better or for worse, 
within twelve hours. We knew now that the change had 
come, and had little hope that it would be for the better. For 
the first time, Liz and I were asked to leave the bedside and 
return to the waiting room. There we found a whole new 
group of people, a few of whom were our friends. In the ap- 
palling hospital silence of late evening, we sat without speak- 
ing. Just before midnight, Sister Consilio approached us, her 
face grave. "Mr. Thomas's condition is now highly critical," 
she said. "Would any of you care to come with me to the chapel 
to pray?" Three of the group accompanied her. Liz and I, with 
the others who stayed, shared a silence that was itself a prayer. 

Yet this crisis passed. When we were allowed to make a brief 
visit to Dylan, we found that a tracheotomy had been per- 
formed. Mucus and other impedimenta had obstructed his 
breathing to the point of suffocation. Swift surgery had re- 
moved the obstructive matter; now there was a tube inserted 
into his nose and another in his throat. While he breathed 

[ 281 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

more freely and with more regularity than earlier in the eve- 
ning, his body now seemed hopelessly ravaged, as though he 
were not a man but some organism kept alive by invention. 
When we spoke to this pathetic body that now seemed to 
have given all of its will to the accouterments sustaining its 
life, I felt finally that I was no longer speaking to Dylan, and 
knew that the remote hope I had come upon the night before 
was gone. 

When a cable containing a tender message to Dylan from 
Caitlin had been delivered in the afternoon, we had put it on 
his bedside table in the meager chance that it would be the 
first thing he would see should he come out of coma. But as 
we looked upon his expressionless face that lay mere inches 
away from her message, the distance between became im- 
measurable. Dylan was now beyond all love, even Caitlin's. 
When we spoke to him now, our words formed no question 
because we knew there could be no answer. 

This was the longest night of all, when every clock stood 
still, and we sat in a desert of hopelessness. Still we made our 
alternating vigils, waiting for the only end we could now con- 
template. Just before dawn, Sister Consilio came to us. Dylan's 
condition remained critical, she said, but she would like to 
have us accept her assurance that he was not likely to die 
within the next few hours. The tracheotomy had successfully 
relieved the crisis of the late evening; he had gained strength 
since then and was now breathing peacefully. We left, then, 
and I slept for two hours. 

Again on Saturday morning the report was "no change" 
and we knew by this simply that Dylan's enormous physical 
strength was continuing to resist the "insult" to his brain. But 
by early afternoon we could see that he was sinking. His 

[ 282 ] 

1953-' September November 

breathing was troubled and irregular; his temperature rose and 
fell in sudden changes that left his face alternately red and 
perspiring, blue and pallid. Now we had to find strength to 
act upon a new development. We learned that in London 
efforts were being made to find a seat for Caitlin on a plane 
scheduled to take off for New York at three P.M. If, as seemed 
certain now, Dylan would die within the next few hours, her 
coming might be a compounded misery for herself and for 
others. While Dr. McVeigh confirmed our observation that he 
was now sinking rapidly, there was still the possibility that 
Dylan might continue to confound prognosis. If there was any 
chance that Caitlin might share Dylan's last hours of life, 
that chance would have to be made possible. Yet, should 
she arrive in New York too late, it would likely be worse than 
if she had never come at all. 

A phone call was put through to London, where Caitlin, 
awaiting her plane, was being cared for by David Higham, 
Dylan's literary agent and long-time friend. The imminence 
of Dylan's death was impressed upon Higham with the ex- 
pectation that he would convey the facts to Caitlin. Higham 
was uncertain about what she would do and felt it unlikely 
that she would be able to leave on the three o'clock plane, 
since it was now less than two hours from flight time, and no 
seat was yet available. In any case, Higham said, he would 
cable as soon as Caitlin had made up her mind. 

While Dr. Feltenstein remained as attendant physician, Dr. 
de Gutierrez-Mahoney had now assumed complete supervi- 
sion of Dylan, had subsequently called in other specialists, and 
had himself been a constant visitor to the bedside during the 
past two days. His failure to give us any sign that might feed 
a last flickering hope had slowly brought us to resignation. 

[ 283 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

When we conferred with Dr. Feltenstein, we learned that 
Dylan's death was not only next to inevitable, but that it was 
now also to be desired: should he somehow manage to survive, 
the damage to his brain was so great that he would be a per- 
manent invalid, physically as well as mentally. When we com- 
prehended this, when we could grasp the idea of Dylan's mind 
brought into some half-articulate and crippled distortion of 
itself, we could only wish that death would come soon. While 
we had been assured from the first that he was conscious of 
no pain, it was impossible to look upon that struggling body 
as it fought for breath, its eyes roaming without rest, and not 
suffer the conviction that Dylan was embroiled in speechless 

E. E. Cummings and his wife came to the hospital that 
afternoon, and scores of strangers, some of whom were now 
in the habit of making daily visits. In our conversations with 
them, we became aware that, while our intimate knowledge of 
Dylan's worsening condition had led us to accept the reality 
of his death, others, completely unprepared to accept it, lis- 
tened to us with faces showing skepticism or outright disbelief. 
On Friday morning, the New York Times had carried a brief 
report of his having been taken ill, but otherwise, except for 
rumors that had run about the city one reporting that he had 
had a cerebral hemorrhage, one that he had fallen downstairs 
while intoxicated, another that he had been mugged by un- 
known assailants, still others too repulsive to mention there 
had been no public report of his true condition. 

Visits through the evening showed no change in Dylan's now 
high and constant fever that at times reached 105.5. Caitlin, 
meanwhile, had sent a cable saying that she had found a place 
on the three o'clock plane from London. Now that she was en 

[ 284 ] 

jg53 ; September November 

route, the only thing to do was to pray that she would not 
come in vain, and to set about insuring that not a moment be 
lost between her landing at Idlewild and her arrival at St. 
Vincent's. I phoned first the British Consulate and then the 
headquarters of the British Delegation to the United Nations. 
The former was taken quite by surprise, having had no previ- 
ous word of Dylan's illness; and the latter was all but closed 
up. I was promised assistance from both offices should the 
proper individuals in authority be reached; but since it was 
Saturday night, it would be difficult to locate those with 
power to act. In view of this, I phoned Washington and got a 
friend there to work directly through the British Embassy. 
He, in turn, phoned an attache who promised to make ar- 
rangements through the Consulate in New York, and assured 
us that everything would be done to see that Caitlin would 
not be impeded by customs or other immigration formalities. 
The business of arranging this, with intermittent visits to 
Dylan in between, had taken more than three hours. Half- 
blind and useless from fatigue, I was taken away from the 
hospital at two A.M. by Howard Moss, who gave me sedatives 
and put me to bed. Against all advice, Liz remained at Dylan's 
side through the night. 

When I awoke just after eight, I hurried back to St. Vincent's. 
Entering by the main door, I caught sight of Caitlin, escorted 
by Rose and Dave Slivka who had gone to Idlewild to meet 
her, coming in through the Emergency Ward corridor. We em- 
braced, kissed, and she said, "Why didn't you write to me? Is 
the bloody man dead or alive?" I led her upstairs to Dylan's 
room, but a nurse asked that we wait for a few minutes before 
entering. As we stood outside while the nurse finished bathing 
Dylan, I could see Liz sitting alone at the far end of the corri- 

[ 285 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

dor. Caitlin and I went in. Dylan was now in an oxygen tent, 
his breathing much less forceful and steady than it had been 
on the night before. Caitlin took his hand and spoke to him. 
I left her, and went to Liz. Within fifteen minutes, Caitlin 
came from the room. As I approached her, I could see that 
the reality of Dylan's condition had registered its whole truth. 
Silently, she circled about, her hands uplifted, as if she were 
under a spell; then she moved with a sudden lurch to a window 
and pounded her head against it in an attempt to smash it 
through. But the window, reinforced with a netting of wire- 
mesh, did not break. She became calmer then, and I escorted 
her back to the waiting room where Rose and Dave Slivka took 
her away to their apartment nearby. Returning to Liz then, 
I found her calm, resigned to a circumstance too complex 
to unravel and, as she had determined days before, ready 
now to remove herself from a scene where, by all official and 
conventional canons, she had no place. 

When Liz left the hospital, I was alone for the first time in 
four days. In the magnified stillness of Sunday morning, the 
waiting room was empty. When I went upstairs to see Dylan, 
wintry-bright sun streamed into his room and made a prism of 
the transparent oxygen tent covering the upper part of him. He 
breathed easily, quietly, his eyes closed, his face calm. I sensed 
the resignation of each of his faculties, the composition of all 
of his will. The dark night of his soul was over, and the long 
day of his dying. At his own pace, in his own time, Dylan was 
approaching his own good night. When I spoke to him, I 
knew I spoke only to myself. 

Back in the empty waiting room, I sat down in a misery of 
recognition so piercing that it was as if I had just that moment 
come upon the scene I witnessed. Until then I had never 

[ 286 ] 

1 953 : September November 

really believed, in spite of the evidence of the doctors and of 
my own eyes, that Dylan was doomed. When, at last, I knew 
not with my mind, since it would accept only what had hap- 
pened and still stubbornly resisted what might, but with all 
of my being that Dylan would die, I wept away the dis- 
belief that had somehow held me together since the moment of 
Liz's call to Cambridge. There had never been a lonelier hour 
of my life, but by the time grief had run its term and found 
the limits of the expression I could give it, I had come upon 
new strength. 

In our responsibility for Dylan which, in the absence of any 
other authority, Liz and I had had to assume, we had naturally 
proceeded with no caution for expenses, either in regard to 
hospital fees or to those of physicians. Had we known that St. 
Vincent's Hospital would eventually cancel all costs for Dylan's 
care, the problem of money would not have forced itself upon 
us as acutely as it then did. But now, we felt, the time had 
come to prepare for medical fees quite beyond our private 
means, to provide ready money for expenses that would come 
at Dylan's death, and to raise funds for Caitlin and her three 
children. After I had spent two hours in making phone calls, 
first to James Laughlin, Dylan's publisher, who said he would 
fly in from his home in Connecticut immediately, and then to 
other individuals who I thought might give money to take care 
of immediate expenses, Caitlin returned in the company of 
Dave and Rose Slivka. 

She was wearing a striking, close-fitting black wool dress; 
her tawny yellow hair was loosely done up; she looked radi- 
antly beautiful, and she had had too much to drink. Before we 
went upstairs, she embraced me, a bit unsteadily, and held me 
to her for fully a minute. She stayed at Dylan's bedside for 

[ 287 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

about twenty minutes, and then she was asked to leave the 
room by distraught nurses who could not keep her from light- 
ing cigarettes in the danger zone of the oxygen tent, or from 
pressing herself upon Dylan in such a way as to obstruct his 
breathing. When she was led to an adjoining room which the 
nuns had made available to her as a private waiting room I 
joined her there with Rose, David Lougee and Rollie. Someone 
had brought whisky at Caitlin's request. She drank from the 
bottle and was very soon in a state of distraction in which, sud- 
denly berserk, she wildly assaulted me and then turned fiercely 
on those who tried to pull her away. As she still fought and 
wrestled with the others through the length of the room, I went 
dazedly into the corridor and tried to come upon some perspec- 
tive through which to view a development that now threat- 
ened to overwhelm us all. Entering Dylan's room, I stood in 
the dim blue light of his bedside and watched his sleep for 
perhaps ten minutes. As I stepped back out into the corridor 
and was about to return to Caitlin, the sister in charge of the 
floor approached me in great agitation. Caitlin's behavior, she 
reported, had become uncontrollable. She had torn a crucifix 
from a wall and smashed it, demolished some pots containing 
plants set on a wall-shelf, and splintered to bits a statue of the 
Virgin. Fighting off nuns and nurses, as well as the friends who 
tried to calm her, she was now in a state of hysteria. Rollie, 
who had witnessed all of this, came to me and suggested that 
a physician be called, since Caitlin was now impervious to any 
entreaty. The nun in charge sent for one of the doctors on 
duty in the Emergency Ward. Within a few minutes, he had 
come with an attendant and a wheel chair. Caitlin was led 
from the anteroom; her face was flushed, but she was momen- 
tarily docile. She refused the wheel chair with a burst of pro- 

[ 288 ] 

1953- September November 

fanity, and was escorted into the elevator and down to the 
Emergency Ward. There she flared up again, biting an orderly 
on the hand, attacking the doctors attending her, and tearing 
the habit of a nun. When I went downstairs a few minutes 
later, I learned that she had finally been restrained in a strait 

Shortly I was called to an office where a staff physician 
asked me to answer a number of questions about Caitlin. Hav- 
ing seen her violence and the dismay it had caused among 
the nurses and doctors attempting to control her, his manner 
was angry and impatient as he filled in a large yellow form 
with details I supplied. The Slivkas joined me in the course 
of this interrogation, and were able to offer several points of 
information I did not possess. The doctor filled up the form 
swiftly, but with such obvious irritation with us and the situa- 
tion that we became distrustful. His reactions to the informa- 
tion we gave him were rancorous, almost malicious. When we 
asked him the purpose of the form he was so angrily filling in, 
he replied that it was a necessary document in preparation for 
having Caitlin admitted to Bellevue, the municipal psychiatric 
hospital. This was deplorable news and we expressed our re- 
action to him in tones that were as rancorous as his. While he 
had sufficient data for his form, he still would have to have a 
signature before Caitlin could be committed. Not one of us 
would sign. Furious at our refusal, he said that, in any case, 
Caitlin would not be allowed to remain at St. Vincent's, and 
spitefully detailed to us her violence toward orderlies and 
nuns, and her profanity toward those who attempted to take 
care of her. He seemed far more concerned for the sensibilities 
of the nuns than for the wretched state into which events had 
brought Caitlin. We could recognize the reasons for his impa- 

[ 289 ] 

Dylan Thomas in America 

tience, but his disregard of the circumstances that had led 
Caitlin to her present plight seemed unprofessional, bigoted, 
and in sharp contrast to the great kindness of other members of 
the hospital staff. Would he, we asked, give us an hour's time 
within which we might confer with Dr. Feltenstein? Grudg- 
ingly, yet of necessity, since he could act no further without 
a signature, he agreed to wait for one hour. 

We phoned Dr. Feltenstein, who said he would come im- 
mediately. Meanwhile, James Laughlin had arrived. Liz, who 
had come back to the hospital for this purpose, went out with 
him and me so that we might present our ideas for the estab- 
lishment of a fund to take care of Dylan's expenses now and 
in the future. When we returned, Dr. Feltenstein was just com- 
ing from an interview with Caitlin, who was being kept in a 
room adjoining the Emergency Ward. He impressed us with 
the extremity of her hysteria, warned us that she was a menace 
not only to herself but to others, and told us that on no ac- 
count could she be released. When we made clear our refusal 
to be party to any action that would commit Caitlin to Belle- 
vue, he offered to bring in a psychiatrist. This man, Dr. Adolf 
Zeckel, came within half an hour, examined Caitlin, then con- 
ferred with Dr. Feltenstein, Rose Slivka, and myself. This was 
the dilemma: since Caitlin was not rational and would have to 
be cared for, and St. Vincent's refused to keep her, the only 
recourse would be to have her sent to a private hospital. He 
recommended that we authorize him to send her to Rivercrest, 
an institution in Astoria, Long Island, just across the river from 
Manhattan. When he could see that we were still hesitant 
and unhappy, Dr. Zeckel pointed out our only two other alter- 
natives either to commit Caitlin to Bellevue, or to assume 
personal responsibility for her care. After all we had wit- 

[ 290 1 

ig53 ; September November 

nessed, we had to admit even against the press of a circum- 
stance that might cause anyone to take leave of his senses 
that Caitlin's need was not the ministrations of well- 
intentioned friends but of professionals. An ambulance was ar- 
ranged for. Dr. Feltenstein took two hundred dollars from his 
pocket to be used as a deposit at Rivercrest. With Rose, and 
Ruthven Todd, attending her, Caitlin was taken away to the 
Long Island institution. When the ambulance arrived there, 
I learned later, she had become calm and rational enough to 
assess her situation, and to commit herself. 

When James Laughlin returned with his friend, Philip Wit- 
tenberg, the well-known literary and theatrical attorney, the 
three of us sat down to a brief conference during which we 
devised initial steps for putting the machinery of a fund into 
operation. This would be named the Dylan Thomas Memorial 
Fund. The first letters of the appeal, containing the names 
of literary sponsors who would be approached by telephone 
that very evening, were to be ready for mailing on the fol- 
lowing day. Phillip Wittenberg would serve as Treasurer, 
and checks would be received at his mid-town office. Our 
talk was brief and to the point, no one now indulging in 
any sentimental hope that a memorial fund would prove 

All through that day and on until after midnight, as he slept, 
far from the grotesque violence and grief that surrounded him, 
Dylan had shown little change. But on Monday morning, No- 
vember gth, my first glance told me that, somewhere in the 
night, he had gone into his final phase. His fever had subsided; 
his breathing had become so slight as to be almost inaudible, 
and now and then there would be little gasps and long breath- 
less intervals that threatened to last forever. His face was wan 

Dylan Thomas in America 

and expressionless, his eyes half-opening for moments at a 
time, his body inert. 

When I phoned Rivercrest in the hope that I might speak 
with Caitlin, I was told that she had spent a quiet night, but 
that no one could yet speak with her or come to visit her. When 
I inquired into the possibility of her being released, I was told 
that this would not be considered until Dr. Zeckel came to 
see her on Monday evening. This seemed an intolerably long 
time for her to be alone, no matter what professional assistance 
might be available to her. I then phoned Dr. Zeckel and ob- 
tained his permission for an afternoon visit by her closest 
friends, Rose and Dave Slivka. As to the possibility of her be- 
ing released, the psychiatrist felt that we would have to accept 
the likelihood that she would be confined for at least two or 
three days. 

Dylan's life simply ebbed away, without any further sign of 
struggle, through the long morning. With Liz, who had re- 
turned to the hospital late the night before, I made frequent 
visits; we sometimes took his hands in ours, sometimes spoke 
softly to him in the last hope that some small word of love and 
comfort might penetrate the limbo in which he lay. 

When a British physician who was visiting in New York 
recommended to Ruthven Todd that Dr. James Smith of Belle- 
vue, an alcoholic specialist, be called in Liz and I went to see 
Dr. de Gutierrez-Mahoney in order to secure clearance for 
his consultation. While Dylan's doctor welcomed this develop- 
ment, we could sense that, while he carefully said nothing that 
might deepen the despair we felt, he regarded Dylan's condi- 
tion as terminal. When we returned to inform Dr. McVeigh 
that Dr. Smith would be coming to see Dylan in the early 
afternoon, he advised us to phone Dr. Smith and urge that he 

1953- September November 

come at once. We did this, and he arrived at the hospital 
within fifteen minutes. After his examination of Dylan and his 
report to the physicians, he conferred with Liz and me. He told 
us that he had made certain recommendations, that these were 
"purely a matter of chemistry," and that it appeared to him 
that Dylan's condition was not reversible. Now there was sud- 
denly increased activity at the bedside, with an anesthetist 
constantly in attendance. 

A few minutes after one o'clock in the afternoon, Liz and I 
sat with a group of people some of whom we had never seen 
before in the shuffling dimness of the waiting room. When 
someone asked Liz to come out for a cup of coffee, I urged her 
to go along. Before she left, I said, I wanted to go upstairs to 
Dylan just one more time. Liz said that she would wait until 
I had come down. As I stepped from the waiting room into the 
corridor, I saw John Berryman rushing toward me. "He's 
dead! He's dead! Where were you?" I could not believe him but 
I did. "When?" "A few minutes ago. I just came from the room." 
I turned and walked slowly back through a group of stran- 
gers toward Liz, took both of her hands in mine, and nodded. 
She rose instantly, her hands fiercely gripping mine, and we 
rushed to the elevator. 

In Dylan's room nurses were dismantling the oxygen tent 
and clearing away other instruments. He had stopped breath- 
ing, one of them told us, while she was bathing him. As she 
was about to turn him over on his right side she had heard him 
utter a slight gasp, and then he had become silent. When the 
nurses left us alone, Liz sat down in the chair in which she had 
watched all the nights of his dying. Dylan was pale and blue, 
his eyes no longer blindly searching but calm, shut, and in- 
effably at peace. When I took his feet in my hands all warmth 

[ 293 1 

Dylan Thomas in America 

was gone; it was as if I could feel the little distance between 
his life and death. Liz whispered to him and kissed him on the 
forehead. We stood then at the foot of his bed for a few very 
long minutes, and did not weep or speak. Now, as always, 
where Dylan was, there were no tears at all. 

[ *94 1 



ABELS, CYRILLY, 224, 266 
"Adventures in the Skin Trade," 

223, 229 
Agee, James, 18 
Aida, 218 
Albany, 163 
Algren, Nelson, 52 
Allen, Dion, 208 
Amherst, 42, 210 
Amherst College, 210 
Ann Arbor, 59 
Anna Karenina, 136 
Arlen, Michael, 202 
Astoria, 290-291 
Auden, W. H., 18, 21, 23, 33, 144, 

216, 268 


BAIT," 16 

Baltimore, 46, 48, 148 
Banc-y-felin, 236 
Barber, Samuel, 221 
"Bard's-Eye View of the U.S.A.," 


Barker, George, 90 
Barnes, Djuna, 181 
Baro, Gene, 96 
Barthelmess, Richard, 78 
Beddoes, Thomas Lovell, 133, 161 
Beerbohm, Max, 6 

[ 297 

Bennington College, 190, 194 

Berryman, John, 278, 293 

Biddle, Francis, 45-48, 89, 131 

Biddle, {Catherine, 45-48, 89, 131 

Big Sur, 88, 165 

Bishop, Elizabeth, 47 

Blake, William, 133 

Bloomington ( Ind. ) , 62 

Boat House, 100-105, 128, 173, 
224, 227, 235-236 

Boland, Patrick, 10-12, 21-22, 59- 
63, 96 

Boston, 39, 55, 58-59, 75, 98, 
123, 136, 147, 153, 155, 157 
172, 185, 193-195, 198-200, 204- 
205, 213-214, 223, 229, 261; 
Scollay Square, 58, 156, 158, 
195, 199, 215, 218; South Bos- 
ton, 217 

Boston Herald, 161 

Boston University, 162, 193, 215- 
216, 229 

Brandeis University, 58 

Brando, Marlon, 78 

Brattle Theater, 159 

Breit, Harvey, 12-17, 267 

Bridgeport, 34 

Brighton (Eng.), 93 

Brooks, Cleanth, 38 

Bryn Mawr College, 44-45 

Burr, Gray, 41-42 


CAGE JOHN, 47-49 

Cairns, Huntington, 48 

Calquhoun, 91 

Cambridge (Mass.), 39, 4 1 * i3> 
152, 155-160, 184, 193-194* 196- 
203, 205, 215, 223, 246, 255, 
265, 273-274, 287; Brattle Thea- 
ter, 159 

Capote, Truman, 87 

Cardiff, 98, 117, 187; Castle, 99 

Carmarthen, 67, 69, 98-99, 102, 
no, 113, 129, 236, 238 

Carmel (Calif.), 165 

Cartier-Bresson, Henri, 113 

Chaplin, Charles, 52-53, 265 

"Chard Whitlow," 144 

Cherbourg, 130 

Chicago, 51-52, 70, 97 164-165 

Cinema 16, 250, 265 

College of the City of New York, 

Collins, Al, 208 

Columbia University, 49, 130,^132 

"Compagnons de la Chanson," 88 

Concord, 214 

Consilio, Sister, 279, 281-282 

Cornell University, 49-5 

Crashaw, Herbert, 119 

Crawford, Cheryl, 270-271 

Cross Creek, 55 

Crucible, The, 219 

Cummings, E. E., 26-27, 96, 284 

Cunningham, Merce, 47-49 

Curnow, Allen, 10-12, 25, 42 


Davidoff, Dr. Leo, 277, 279 

Davies, W. H., 21 

Dean, Dorothy, 207 

Dean, Leonard, 170, 207 

Death's Jest Book, 161 

De Cordova Museum, 153 

de Gutierrez-Mahoney, Dr. C. G., 

280-281, 283, 292 
Deren, Maya, 265 

"Destination Moon," 90 

DeVries, Katinka, 34 

DeVries, Peter, 34 

Dickinson, Emily, 211 

"Do not go gentle into that good 

night," 161 

Dobson, Frank, 269, 271 
Doctor Faustus, 159, 161, 181 
Donne, John, 119, 133 
Duchess of Malfi, 161 
Duck Soup, 86 
Duke University, 205 
Durham (N.C.), 205 

EBERHART, RICHARD, 55-56, 58-59, 


Edward VII, 38 
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 64 
Eliot, T. S., 60, 92, 144 
Elizabeth II, 221 
Ernst, Max, 163-164 
Everingham, Joseph, 203, 215 
Ewart, Gavin, 62 

FAULKNER, WILLTAM, 87, 219, 269 
Faustus, (Marlowe's Doctor Faus- 

tus), 159, 161, 181 
Feibleman, James, 166-167 
Feltenstein, Dr. Milton, 221, 254, 

272-274, 276-277, 280, 283-284, 

"Fern Hill" (poem), 125, 127, 236- 


Fern Hill (place), 236-238 
Fishguard (Wales), 108-109 
Flagstaff (Ariz.), 164 
Florida, 28, 54-55, 69-70, 123, 129, 

131, 133 

Fogg Museum, 195-196, 201 
Ford, Ruth, 18-19 
Frankenberg, Lloyd, 28, 55, 96, 142 

Garnetts, 13 
Garrigue, Jean, 96 

[ 298 1 


Gascoyne, David, 133 
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 70 
Georgetown, 45 
Gilbert, John, 78 
Gotham Book Mart, 32, 169 
Gould, Joe, 44 
Guys and Dolls, 191 
Gwyn, Nell, 87 

Hamlet, 159-160, 181 

Hannum, Herb, 251-254, 266, 270, 


Hardy, Thomas, 23 
Harmon, Irving, 200 
Hartford, 170, 208 
Harvard Advocate, 157 
Harvard University, 39, 41, 157- 

158, 195-198, 205 
Hayter, William Stanley, 27-28 
Hayton, Lennie, 90 
Heliker, Jack, 273-275 
Herrick, Robert, 119 
High Wind in Jamaica, 104 
Higham, David, 164, 223, 283 
Hobart College, 54 
Hollywood, 51-53, 217, 229, 232 
Hopkins, Gerard Manley, 10, 133 
Home, Lena, 90 
Houdini, 249 

Hughes, Richard, 104, 212-213 
Huxley, Aldous, 216 
Hyde Park, 140 
Hyman, Stanley Edgar, 35-36 



Indianapolis, 62, 69 
Institute of Contemporary Arts, 45 
Iowa City, 50 
Isherwood, Christopher, 52 
Ispahan, 97 

Jackson, Shirley, 35-36 
Janeway, Elizabeth, 202 

John, Augustus, 10, 14, 213 
"John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs. 

Mary Moore," 268 
Jones, Anne, 241 
Jones, Howard Mumford, 196 

KANIN, GARSON, 68, 70 
Keats, John, 133 
Kenyon College, 50 
King Lear, 135, 159, 161 
Koestler, Arthur, 146 
Kronenberger, Louis, 18 


Lanchester, Elsa, 60 

"Lapis Lazuli," 24, 268 

Laugharne, 53, 69, 98-107, no, 
114-117, 125, 130-132, 137-138, 
173, 177-179, 184-185, 188, 212- 
213, 224-227, 230-236, 242-244, 

Laughlin, James, 30-32, 133, 203, 
287, 290-291 

Laughton, Charles, 14 

Lawrence, D. H., 23, 144 

Le Havre, 93 

Lewis, Alun, 24 

Lewis, C. Day, 33 

Lewis, Hunter, 131 

Library of Congress, 46-47 

Lincoln (Mass.), 153, 157 

Lindau, Margaret, 214 

Lindau, Norman, 214 

Lipton, Sir Thomas, 269 

Llanstephan, 238 

Llanybri, 236, 240 

"Llarreggub Hill," 125, 181, 183 

London, 6-7, 10, 18, 32, 48, 58, 85- 
96, 98, 101, 105, 116, 128-131, 
177-182, 184, 187, 205, 212, 220- 

221, 224-225, 231, 233, 243-245, 

247, 250, 253, 280, 283-284; 
Camden Town, 130-131, 138, 
179-180; Soho, 182 
London Vogue, 90 

[ 299 ] 


"Long-Legged Fly," 268 

Loos, Anita, 68, 70 

Los Angeles, 51, 54, 75, 123 

Lougee, David, 96, 136, 278-279, 


Lye, Jane, 14 
Lye, Len, 13-14, 187 
Lynchburg (Va. ), 202 


McCall, Storrs, 135 

McGill University, 135 

MacGregor, 91 

Maclver, Loren, 28, 55, 96, 142 

McKenna, Rollie, 136, 138-141, 
156, 204, 208, 224-227, 235-244, 
256, 277, 288 

Macnamara, Francis, 213 

MacNeice, Louis, 24, 33, 144 

McVeigh, Dr. James, 277, 281, 283, 

Madame Butterfly, 218 

Mademoiselle, 224, 266 

Mandrake Club, 87, 90, 182 

Marlowe, Christopher, 133, 161 

Marvell, Andrew, 119 

Marx Brothers, 55, 86, 265 

Massachusetts Institute of Tech- 
nology, 153, 164, 205, 272 

Matthiessen, F. O., 39, 41 

Melville, Herman, 119 

Miami, 133 

Milk Wood. See Under Milk Wood 

Millbrook (N.Y.), 136-137, 140 

Miller, Arthur, 219, 265 

Miller, Henry, 88 

Mills College, 51 

"Miss Twye," 62 

Missouri, 134 

Moby Dick, 119 

"Molly M alone," 62 

Money, Herb, 188 

Montreal (Canada), 135, 148 

Moore, Harry Thornton, 92 

Moore, Marianne, 113 

Morehouse, Marion, 26-27, 9$, 284 
Moss, Howard, 10, 12, 22, 189- 

190, 203, 264, 268, 277, 285 
Moss, Stanley, 96, 136 
Mt. Holyoke College, 41-42, 55, 



New Haven (Conn.), 37 

New Orleans, 166-168 

New Verse, 3-4 

New World Writing, 229 

New York City, 6-16, 21-28, 30, 
33, 37, 43-44, 51, 53, 59, 61, 
63-65, 68-70, 77, 81, 90-91, 98, 
112, 131-133, 135-137, 141-153, 
162-172, 181, 183, 186-191, 193- 
194, 198, 202-205, 2 7-2O9, 218- 
221, 225, 235, 243, 245, 247- 
294; Greenwich Village, 12, 21, 
26, 28, 44, 51, 63, 70, 74, 81- 
82, 142, 145, 187, 189-190, 248- 
249, 263, 267; Yorkville, 249- 

New York Times, 12, 284 

New York Times Book Review, 13- 

New Yorker, 10, 34, 189, 194 

"News for the Delphic Oracle/' 

"Nightwood," 181 

Northwestern University, 165 

Norwalk (Conn.), 37 

Notre Dame University, 50 

Novotna, Jarmila, 202 

"OlSEAU DE FEU, L'," 2l6 

Owen, Wilfred, 133 
Oxford (Eng.), 96, 114 

PARIS, 93, 128-129 
Pearson, Norman Holmes, 37-38 
Pembrokeshire, 69 
Pendine, 69 

Pennsylvania State College, 163- 


Philadelphia, 44, 89, 204 

Plato, 123 

Plomer, William, 144 

Plymouth (Eng.), 85 

"Poem on His Birthday," 124, 161 

Poetry Center, 4, 20, 23-24, 28, 
68, 71, 96-97, 129, 132, 139, 
144, 147, 151, 171, 178, 181, 
184, 187, 190, 194, 203, 208- 
209, 218, 233, 245-246, 251, 
255, 257 

Poet's Theater, 201, 205 

Pomona College, 51 

Poole, Roy, 208 

Porter, Arabel, 203 

Porter, Katherine Anne, 18-20 

"Portrait of the Artist as a Young 
Dog, A," 68 

Poughkeepsie, 65, 139 

Prague, 32, 134 

Princeton University, 65, 152, 278 


Rake's Progress, 215-216 

Rama Rau, Santha, 266, 270-271 

Ransom, John Crowe, 31, 62 

Rat Race, 70 

Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan, 55 

Ray, Johnnie, 217-218 

Read, Bill, 98-116, 124, 128, 130, 

138, 153, 193, 215 
Reed, Henry, 144 
Rhinebeck, 140 
Richards, I. A., 196 
Richman, Robert, 45 
Robeson, Paul, 32 
Roethke, Theodore, 8 
Rolo, Charles, 18 

St. Clears, 106, 236, 241 
St. David's Head, 107-108, 156 
St. Vincent's Hospital, 274-290, 

Salem, 155 

San Francisco, 28, 50-51, 53-54, 

131-132, 163-166, 217 
San Francisco State College, 51, 


Sandburg, Carl, 64 
Santa Barbara College, 51 
Santa Barbara Museum, 51 
Saratoga Springs, 163 
Saugatuck, 35 
Savage Club, 85, 89, 94-95 
Schwartz, Delmore, 74 
Seattle, 51 
Sedona, 163-164 
"September i, 1939," 268 
Shakespeare, William, 133 
Shapiro, Evalyn, 46 
Shapiro, Karl, 46 
Shiraz, 97 
Sims, Hilda, 89 
Sir John's Hill, 113 
Sitwell, Edith, 24, 96, 113, 144 
Skidmore College, 163 
Slivka, David, 264, 276-277, 285- 

287, 289, 292 
Slivka, Rose, 147, 156, 264, 276- 

278, 285-292 
Smart, Betty, 90 
Smith, Dr. James, 292-293 
Socialist Party, 132 
Sonnenberg, Ben, 269 
Spender, Stephen, 33, 228 
Spillane, Mickey, 263 
State University of Iowa, 50 
Steloff, Frances, 169 
Stephens, James, 21 
Stern, James, 18 
Stern, Tania, 18 
Stevenson, Ellen Borden, 166 
Stewart, Sada, 208 
Stockholm Peace Petition, 32 
Storrs, 170-171 
Stravinsky, Igor, 215-217, 223, 229, 

232-233, 245 
Sturbridge, 206 


Sunset Boulevard, 85 

Swansea (Wales), 46, 69, 100, 102, 
212-213, 280 

Swanson, Gloria, 85 

Sweeney, John L. (poem collec- 
tion of), 41 

Sweet Briar College, 47 

Syracuse University, 194 

Take a Giant Step, 271 

Talfan, Aneirin, 98 

Tanning, Dorothea, 163-164 

Taylor, Frank, 53 

Taylor, Margaret, 87, 90-91, 186 

Thomas, Aeron, 70, 80, 103, 116, 
148, 233, 242, 244, 287 

Thomas, Caitlin, 34-35, 37, 5*, 53, 
55, 66, 69-70, 80, 83-85, 93, 96- 
97, 99-n6, 124, 128-165, 167- 
171, 173, 177, 179, 185-187, 

212-213, 217, 221, 223-228, 232- 
236, 242-247, 265, 271, 277-278, 

Thomas, Colm, 35, 70, 80, 103, 

116, 138, 148, 186, 228, 233, 


Thomas, Danny, 10 
Thomas, David J., 46, 69, 111-112, 

128, 213 
Thomas, David J., Mrs., 46, 68-69, 

111-112, 128, 213, 227, 234-244 
Thomas, Llewelyn, 80, 101-102, 

148, 159-160, 164-165, 168, 170, 

226, 228, 233, 287 
Time, 149-151 
Todd, Joellen, 276 
Todd, Ruthven, 9-10, 13, 187, 266, 

270, 275-276, 291-292 
Tourneur, Cyril, 133 
Treece, Henry, 98, 185 
Trilling, Diana, 18 
Trilling, Lionel, 18 
Tulane University, 166, 192 
Tyler, Parker, 265 

Under Milk Wood, 125, 183-184, 
186-188, 190, 193-195, 198, 200- 
201, 203, 207-209, 211-214, 219- 
220, 223-224, 233, 245-246, 248- 
249, 251, 255-257, 266 

University of British Columbia, 50, 


University of California, 50 
University of California at Los 

Angeles, 51 

University of Chicago, 50, 165 
University of Connecticut, 130, 

167, 170, 205, 207, 215 
University of Florida, 55 
University of Illinois, 50 
University of Indiana, 59, 62-63 
University of Michigan, 59-60 
University of Washington, 51 

VANCOUVER, 28, 50-51, 54, 69, 123, 

131, 165 

Vancouver News-Herald, 50-51 
Vassar College, 64-65, 139-140 
Vera-Ellen, 91 
Vidal, Gore, 202 
Viereck, Peter, 42 
Vogue (London), 90 

WASHINGTON (D.C.), 45, 47-48, 
131, 134, 148, 170, 202, 221, 


Wayne University, 59-61 
Webster, John, 133, 161 
Weinstein, Jerome, 266 
Wellesley College, 55-56 
Westport, 25, 29, 33, 37, 39, 68, 


Weybright, Victor, 202 
Wheaton College, 272-273 
Whitman, Walt, 113, 119 
Wickwire, Nancy, 208, 212 
Wilbur, Charlee, 154, 157 
Wilbur, Richard, 154, 157 
Wilcox, Ella Wheeler, 45 
Wilde, Oscar, 38 

302 ] 


Wilder, Thornton, 64 
Williams, Billy, 99, 106-110 
Williams, Ivy, 37, 105, 128, 223, 

225, 235, 242 
Williams, Oscar, 13, 25, 42-43, 89, 

131, 203 

Williams College, 194 
Willow Run, 62 
Winters, Shelley, 52-53 
Witt-Diamant, Ruth, 51, 131, 133, 

135, 217 
Wittenberg, Philip, 291 

Wood, Mildred, 189 
Woodworth, Mary, 44-45 
Wordsworth, William, 161 


Yeats, William Butler, 23-24, 144, 


YM-YWHA. See Poetry Center 
Young, Andrew, 21 
Ypsilanti, 59 

ZECKEL, DR. ADOLF, 290, 292 

[ 303